Q&A With Kathleen Kent

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Q&A With Kathleen Kent 

Today’s Q&A is with author Kathleen Kent. Kathleen’s novels have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list and she’s the author of crime novels, spy thrillers and historical fiction novels. Kathleen’s novels are, The Dime, The Burn, The Pledge, Black Wolf, The Outcasts, The Traitors Wife, & The Heretics Daughter. 


Q: Kathleen, when in your life did you realize writing was your calling? What drew you into writing crime fiction, historical fiction and spy thrillers?

A: I had gone to the University of Texas to study literature and creative writing, so it was a long-time dream to someday be a novelist.  But my father, who was a very pragmatic man, asked me if I was ready to begin my adult life as a starving artist. He convinced me to change my major to business and continue writing as an avocation. After college, I moved to New York and worked first in commodities and then as a civilian contractor to the Dept. of Defense in the Former Soviet Union. It wasn’t until I’d taken an early retirement, and had moved back to Texas in 2000, that I began writing full time, beginning with my first book, The Heretic’s Daughter.


Q: What advice do you give anyone on how to write great spy thrillers, crime fiction and historical fiction?

A: No matter the genre, there are elements that remain constant in engaging literature: nuanced, fully dimensional characters, a compelling plot, and attention to pacing. I love the research part of writing, which is important even if you’re familiar with the subject. It gives the writing authenticity and helps to transport the reader to another place and time.  With Black Wolf, even though I was very familiar with the subject as I’d spent almost a decade in Belarus and Kazakhstan through the 1990’s, I still did a lot of background research on the conditions in the Former Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I’ve read quite a few spy thrillers over the years, and it’s an exciting genre I’ve wanted to tackle for quite a while.

Q: If you were to write in a genre that isn’t historical fiction, spy thriller and crime fiction, which genre would it be and why?

A:  I love exploring new genres.  Currently, I’m working on a standalone novel that is set in 1977 New York City.  There is a strong element of the supernatural in the story, which is something I haven’t yet fully explored.  I have incorporated real events, but with alternative, paranormal explanations for those events.  One of my favorite writers is Dan Simmons who is a master at making the impossible sound plausible. 


Q: If you deal with writers’ block, how do you deal with it and would you advise others who want to pursue writing the same advice?

A:  I think “writers’ block” is something that every writer encounters on occasion.  But everyone approaches writing, and its challenges, differently. When the block happens to me, I ask myself the following: Am I tired?  Am I hungry?  And most importantly, Am I bored?  If the latter is the answer, then I need to step away from the story and give it some time to incubate.  Some things that help me clear the brain freeze are to go for a long walk, or a long rambling drive, or—and this often helps the stalemate—revisit my character development.  And finally, I find that more general research will give me the ammunition I need to resume the story. 


Q: For your crime and spy thriller novels, is it fair to say that the characters and places in those novels are based off of anyone you know in real life and places you’ve been? I like how authors can use real life to create a fictional world and person. 

A:  It’s very often the case that the fictional people populating my books are based on real life people.  My first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter, is based on the life and death of my nine-times great grandmother, Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692.  Black Wolf, my spy novel, is based loosely on my decade working with the Dept. of Defense, and with intelligence agencies, in the Former Soviet Union.  Of course, writing fiction gives the writer the opportunity to stretch the truth for dramatic purposes.


Q: If you’re writing a new novel now, can you reveal any details?

A:  Besides the novel set in 1977 New York, I’m working on a treatment for a sequel to Black Wolf (which was set in Soviet Belarus).  The sequel will be set in Kazakhstan and will follow the main protagonist, Melvina Donleavy, as she pursues Iranian spies looking to acquire uranium for their own nuclear weapons program.


Q: Does Hollywood have any interests or rights to any of your novels? I hope they do because Hollywood is long overdue for originality. 

A:  I’ve had a few of my books optioned for film: The Heretic’s Daughter, The Outcasts, and The Dime.  It’s a galaxy far, far away, though, from signing a film option to acquiring the funding for a film production. I agree that Hollywood seems to be financing only big budget superhero movies these days.  There is much greater novelty and originality in the streaming services, not only of American series, but European and South Korean productions as well.


Q: If you were to collaborate with another author, who would it be with and why?

A:   Oh, this is a hard question to answer! Writing novels is most often a solitary occupation.  And although I respect and admire many writers from many different genres, I believe it would be like trying to find the perfect dance partner without the intervening years of practicing with that partner.  I’m afraid my quirks and erratic schedule would drive another writer crazy.

Q: How would you advise someone on how to deal with negative reviews, online trolls and unsupportive family and friends who are unsupportive of their writing goals?

A:  I’ve been fortunate in that my friends and family have been very supportive, albeit a bit mystified when I first started writing full time while in my forties.  Writing is a long and lonely path, and if you don’t love it with a passion, it’s going to be hard. I like getting good reviews (who doesn’t!), but I never—and I mean I never—look at my reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.  If my publisher or agent sends me reviews, I’ll read them, but otherwise I have to ask myself, how will someone’s subjective (and sometimes mean spirited trollish) opinion make me a better novelist? As Jason Robards (Dashiell Hammett) asks Jane Fonda (Lillian Hellman) in the film “Julia”, “Buy the mink coat, or don’t buy the mink coat. Just remember, Lillian, it has nothing to do with writing.”