March 2008

An Interview with Kathryn Wall

Author: Paul deVere

“I didn’t imagine this when I got the first book published. That one would have been enough. I wanted something with my name on it that would be there forever. But I tend to be a little over-achieving. Maybe compulsive. It turned out, one wasn’t enough.”

—Kathryn R. Wall, author of eight Bay Tanner mysteries.

When some people retire, they hit the tennis courts, golf courses or the decks of cruise ships. Hilton Head Islander Kathryn Wall hit the keyboard. After spending 25 years as an accountant, in both public and private practice, she decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition to write a novel. “I always wrote when I was a kid. My mother was an English teacher. I got wonderful grades in English and everyone complimented me on my writing. But no one ever said, ‘Gee, you ought to make a career of that,’” Wall said in a recent interview.

But with her eighth book, The Mercy Oak, due to hit the bookstores at the end of April, Wall is thoroughly enjoying life as a writer. A contract with St. Martin’s Press, one of the largest publishers in the U.S., six books ago, happily sealed her fate.

Wall’s books center around the beautiful Bay Tanner, a sometimes investment counselor, sometimes sleuth, with all the beauty and boils of the Lowcountry acting as the backdrop for Tanner’s adventures.

CH2 caught Wall, a pretty, diminutive, white-haired grandmother of four (and great grandmother of one), at her home on Broad Creek, to talk with her about her life, her novels and, of course, Bay Tanner.

CH2: Your heroine, Bay Tanner, where did she come from?

Wall: When I do talks, when I’m standing up in front of strangers, I always say at the beginning of the first book, that she’s 38 years old, she’s 5-feet 10-inches tall, she has long brown hair and green eyes, and she’s wealthy. Obviously she’s autobiographical. (Laughs.) She’s what I want to be when I grow up, I guess. I always have been, probably from my mother’s influence, a voracious reader, and she [Bay] is probably bits and pieces of what I’ve read. There were some things I set out deliberately to do—her age, her widowhood, where she lived—with the intention of writing a series, since that’s what I like to read. I tried to make her old enough to have some life experience and, at that time, I was close enough to 38. It’s kind of faded into the distance now (more laughter). I wanted her to have lived some but still be young enough to have a love life and be able to be active physically. So I did pick some of the qualities intentionally and some of it just sort of evolved as I went along.

CH2: You made her a widow?

Wall: My husband, Norman, he’s a wonderful guy. I couldn’t do this without him. He likes to tell the story that I knocked him off in the first paragraph of the first page of the first book. Officially calls himself the “aide de camp,” which means he has to carry boxes of books [at book signings]. He’s incredible. We’ve been married 36 years. [Note: In Wall’s first novel, In for a Penny, Bay Tanner’s husband is, in fact, blown up in a Gulf Stream jet. But it takes a couple of paragraphs.]

CH2: Are you at the keyboard every day?

Wall: I don’t do what the writing books say. I don’t get up every morning at eight and write for four hours. It doesn’t work for me. If I’m having a really good morning, I can turn out 3,000 words. I would not like to give that as writing advice. You have to try and see what works for you no matter what anyone else says or does. I’m a binge writer. I go crazy for a while and then go back on the wagon. Then I fall off again. It’s terrific fun. I don’t hold myself to some artificial schedule, but I never feel as if I have writer’s block. I have days when I don’t feel like doing it, so I don’t. Then there are days when I say call the pizza delivery guy because there will be no cooking because I’m on a roll. I don’t outline. I told someone recently I had to get home and write because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. That’s the joy of it for me.

CH2: How did you get into the business?

Wall: It took me almost a year to write the first book, and then I spent a lot of time trying to get it published. While that was going on, I wrote the second one. I self-published the first one, got picked up on the second one with a press in Beaufort [Coastal Villages Press]. Once I got the contract with St. Martin, it was one a year. Every August 1, I need to turn in a manuscript with a minimum of 95,000 words. So that’s what I do.

CH2: Where do the stories come from?

Wall: I usually get a spark of an idea from something I read in the paper or something I heard someone talking about, or an issue that I know is pertinent here. I try for it to be something relatively important, but without preaching a sermon or letting too much of my own opinion sneak in. I get nervous, truthfully, about some of the things, like is somebody going to take offense? The next book, The Mercy Oak, has to do with immigration, the problems that it created here. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get some letters. I talked to quite a few people from both sides [of the issue] though I’m sure somebody will take offense. But it is what it is. It was like In for a Penny, the debate between developers and preservationists. And I started writing that in 1997. It hasn’t much changed. I really wanted to show the best side of Hilton Head, but show the warts, too. It’s paradise in one way, but it’s also just like any small town U.S.A. Same problems, prettier setting.

CH2: And the best part of your writing career?

Wall: Writing in your pajamas, you couldn’t have a better career than this. It’s a great way to earn a living.

Visit: www.kathrynwall.com to see Wall’s current schedule and book signings. Her books are available at your favorite bookstore and online.

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