Today I’m interviewing Kate McMurray, an up-and-coming M/M author who has established quite a reputation for herself as a writer of quality books, despite being in the professional writing business for such a short time.
Hi Kate: It’s a real pleasure to interview you and I love that you’re another baseball fan – not that that’s the only reason I wanted to do this interview. 🙂 The main reason is I love your books.
Thank you! I’m very happy to be here.
Would you like to tell us something about Kate the person and Kate the author? Are they different? How do the two co-exist in your head? 🙂
We’re mostly the same, although I think my author self is maybe a little more risqué. I like writing about sex, and I like to challenge myself as an author, but underneath, I’m kind of vanilla. (Example: Right after my first novel came out, I did an in-person interview with a blogger I know, and the first thing she commented on was how cute and innocent I looked in the pink sundress I was wearing. So that was the basis of her interview: “Kate looks so sweet and unassuming, and yet she writes these smutty things!” I get reactions like this a lot.)
As a straight female, what do you find most challenging about writing male/male romances? I think that writing a romance, any romance, would be tricky to get all the elements right especially the characterizations so that the stories and MCs are believable, even though readers know they’re fantasies. Perhaps your challenges in writing for this genre are completely different; if so, maybe you could elaborate.
I agree. I think writing romance and making it compelling and believable is the real challenge. You have to throw in enough interpersonal conflict or external turmoil to make it interesting for the reader. So there are always a lot of things at play, a lot of ingredients you have to balance to make a good story. It’s tricky, but it’s a challenge I enjoy. The other challenge, as far as m/m goes, is that obviously I’m not a dude, so some of what I’m writing is based on educated guesses much more than actual experience. Then again, I think there are a lot of feelings and experiences we’ve all had, regardless of gender, so I try to think of my characters as just people; they react to certain situations the way they do because of their background and personality traits rather than what’s going on downstairs. Although I’ve had male beta readers tell me, “Uh, Kate, no guy would ever do this.” And then I’ve revised accordingly. 😀 (Aside: One of my regular critique partners is a straight guy who is always the first one to say, “You know, you’ve written hotter sex scenes than this. Can’t you spice this up?” He tells me I write orgasms realistically, though, so I take that as a win.)
Here’s part of Kate’s bio:
I had a hell of a time putting a bio together the first time I had to, because, after looking at other writers’ bios, I noticed that many talk about their spouse and their kids. I have neither a spouse nor kids, but I do have a cat and a roommate and a spacious apartment above an organic ice cream shop in Brooklyn. (If someone bases a sitcom pilot on that, I want a cut.)
I’ve visited Brooklyn many times over the years and I love its history AND its evolution. What are some of the best things about the borough that appeal to you now that you have lived there for 6 years? What are a few differences between Brooklyn and the New Jersey suburbs where you lived? I’m really interested in your perspective since a lot of New Yorkers love to make fun of The Garden State 🙂
I’m definitely a city person. I could do without the crowds sometimes, but I like that everything I could ever need is within easy reach. I lived in Manhattan for a few years before I moved to Brooklyn, and the pace is a little slower here, more residential and less bustling. I’m particularly enamored with my neighborhood; I live in Prospect Heights, which is sandwiched between affluent Park Slope and developing Crown Heights. In the last few years, some really great small shops and restaurants have popped up, and I’m close to a lot of the best parts of Brooklyn: Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum, the Botanic Garden, the Central Library, the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket. I feel like Brooklyn is also really connected to its history in a way Manhattan isn’t; there seems to be more of an emphasis on preserving the old rather than tearing it down to build something new.
The town I grew up in is only about ten miles northwest of the city, so not far at all. But it was definitely a suburb—you need a car to get around, it’s quieter, there’s less to do. My home town was also super Catholic and much more narrow-minded than you might expect from a small town so close to NYC. (My family moved out of NJ shortly after I left for college, so I haven’t really been back much.)
But, yeah, I love the city. I don’t need a car. I’ve got a great network of friends. And I can get Thai food delivered whenever I want. What more could you ask for?
Let’s talk about your writing. From your first book, In Hot Pursuit I fell in love with your characters. I’m wondering, when you create your characters, what goes into that melting pot? The creative process is different for everyone and I’m always intrigued about each author’s first intuitive thoughts about what would make the chemistry work between two protagonists.
I like to play with tropes. So, I usually start with a scenario more than the characters themselves. A couple of guys get snowed in together during an awful blizzard. Guy moves back to his hometown and winds up living next door to his teenage crush. Two Major League baseball players fall for each other. That’s kind of the seed for all of my stories. The characters grow out of that. I like to do a lot of freewriting and brainstorming when I start a new story, and I think visually, so I’ll draw maps and flow charts and create outlines and plan everything out. Writing an outline is kind of like putting a puzzle together, because you have to think about how all of these little pieces fit together. So, here’s the scenario, how does Character A react to meeting Character B? Why does he react that way? What is the catalyst for their relationship to develop? How does the setting of the story affect them? What in this character’s background makes him act? All of those kinds of things have to be in the mix. I like to keep my plans loose so that I can make some right turns and let things evolve organically, but I do try to think up a lot of this stuff up front.
As a writer you can make your characters do anything you want but almost every author says that his or her characters refuse to stay “in the box.” Does this happen to you and if so, how do you deal with it other than telling them to get out of your head? 😀
This does occasionally happen! Writing Blind Items is a good example—that novel went through three almost complete rewrites before I really had the book figured out. I think as a writer I have to be open to adjusting if something isn’t working (for example, in the first draft of Blind Items, Rey ended up with Drew’s friend Allie, and that really was not working for me when the draft was done—the characters had very little chemistry together, which seems like a funny thing to say about characters I created, but it was true—so that whole plot line got nixed).
Here’s another excerpt from Kate’s bio:
Other things about me: I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, which makes me contractually obligated to sing Bon Jovi songs when I go out for karaoke. I’m a little bit of a girly-girl; I like cute dresses and own a lot of handbags and spend more time on my hair than is rational. (You can take the girl out of Jersey…) I once considered a career in fashion design, so “practical” is not always something that enters my mind when making career choices. (This is pretty much how I wound up with a BA in English lit.)
I’m also a neurotic over-achiever, so I’m always busy. I edit at a small textbook publisher by day, do some freelance editorial work on the side, play the violin, run a writers group, read a few books every week, and, of course, I write as much as I can. Some of my other interests include: baseball, reading lengthy books on American history, cheesy TV reality competition shows, useless trivia, baseball, going to museums, taking long walks, drawing, singing badly, and baseball. 🙂
We have at least one thing in common – baseball. I have always been fascinated by the game and love minor league ball almost as much as following my favourite Major League Baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. What I love most about baseball is its history. What do you most enjoy about the game?
I’ll be a Yankees fan forever because what really cemented my love for the game was going to games at Yankee Stadium as a teenager. The whole experience of actually going to games is so great—getting caught up in the excitement of the crowd, sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see how it will play out. I went to a lot of those games with my dad, and I have a lot of fond memories of that, so there’s an emotional connection, definitely. I love the history of the game, too—it’s fascinating how the game has developed and changed over time but also stayed more or less the same. And the math nerd in me loves all the statistics, the way that, with the advent of sabermetrics, somebody somewhere is tracking everything a ball player does once he steps on the field.
I absolutely loved your latest book Out in the Field, not only because the plot was about two baseball players, but I admired how well drawn Iggy and Matt were. Did you have to do a lot of research for the baseball elements despite your knowledge of the game?
Thanks! The story started based mostly on my own knowledge and love for the game. But there were some gaps in my knowledge. There still are, probably; reviewers have called out tiny mistakes I made. (Ask me about walk-off home runs in post-season games!) I found as I was writing that I had to look a lot of things up; I had a lot of moments when I thought, “Wait, what is this thing called again?” or “What kind of on-base percentage would an above average player have?” and that kind of thing. Plus, last summer, I got really into fantasy baseball and started regularly listening to baseball podcasts and watching ESPN, and that certainly helped a lot when I was writing.
I understand you like to play with power tools. Do you actually build things or just cut off your fingers when the power saw slips? 🙂 Since you’re such a “girly girl” I’m quite surprised that these are some of your toys. When did this interest start?
Well, a girly-girl, but I have a pretty fierce independent streak, too. I like to figure out how to do things on my own, which is how I started doing repairs. Nothing really dramatic, but I’ve assembled furniture and reupholstered chairs and that kind of thing. I went through a phase when I obsessively watched home improvement shows on TV and tried to do some of the projects they showed. In New York, sometimes the option is between waiting three weeks for your landlord to get around to fixing something or just doing it yourself. As a housewarming gift when I moved into one of the apartments I had in Manhattan, friends bought me a drill, which has come in super handy. I thought having the kind of knowledge to do these things was normal until I had a roommate once who, no joke, did not know how to use a screwdriver.
For a lot of writers his/her dream is to be published. What was your dream and has it been realized so far? Is there something you would like to achieve as a writer that has currently eluded you?
Getting published was certainly up there. That was always part of my plan, even when I was a teenager writing angsty stories in the notebooks I kept hidden under my bed. It’s not enough just to be published for me, though; I want to write books that people enjoy, or write the sort of book everybody tells their friends about. I’d love to be able to write full-time; I’m starting to think it might be possible eventually, but that’s a ways off. (Really, I’d be happy not to work in an office anymore.)
Most authors have a defining moment in their careers. I know you haven’t been published for years and years but there must have been a moment that made you go “Wow, I can’t believe I’ve done that” or “How fantastic!” Can you tell us about one of those significant moments and how it affected you?
The last six months have had a lot of these moments. I went to GayRomLit and my mind was blown—I had such a wonderful time talking to writers and readers and experiencing what this community can be like. And community is something that’s really important to me; writing is such a solitary endeavor, but I’m an extrovert and like talking to people, so getting to meet and make friends with all these people who are into m/m romance was such a thrill. I’ve started attending romance-related events in the NYC area and I’ve met a lot of really great people who are very passionate about the genre, and I love that. (I feel like I’ve found my people, basically. And I’ve gotten to meet and talk to some of my favorite writers, which is great.)
Then Blind Items got a lot of positive attention—it’s such a strange little book, more about friendship than romance, but I was still really proud of it and glad people liked it. That it made a few “best-of” lists last year was thrilling. And then the reception Out in the Field is getting—I seriously thought that the audience for a gay baseball romance was, like, six people, but the response this book got has been humbling and more than I ever could have imagined.
In your other life you edit text books as well as fiction. Was it a difficult transition for you to write M/M which could not be more different?
I got my start writing fiction when I was, like, twelve. A friend of mine and I were working on reading our way through the YA department at the local public library, and when we accomplished that, we decided we should try to write our own stories. (So I didn’t go out much as a kid. Look, I’m Irish and pasty. Spending too much time outside just leads to sunburn and misery.) Anyway, my friend and I teamed up to write a series of teen mysteries that, thankfully, are now lost to the ages, but I’ve been writing fiction ever since. It was at this same library that I discovered romance novels—my mother is a big reader, but she doesn’t read much fiction at all, so she certainly didn’t have romance novels around—and I’ve always really liked love stories. I wrote a couple of mediocre het romance/chick lit stories when I was in my twenties, so it wasn’t really a big leap from that to m/m. I got into editing because I loved writing so much, actually; I read a ton as a kid and studied lit in college—but also took creative writing classes and wrote a lot of poetry, actually—and then had to figure out what to do with my life as an adult. A career in publishing seemed like a pretty logical step, so here I am.
But textbooks and romance are really different. I like that, though; it’s easy to compartmentalize. And my current day job is satisfying to the part of me that considered becoming a teacher once upon a time; these days I mostly edit language arts books, so it’s a good fit.
What do you have on the writing horizon in the next 3 – 6 months?
I have a book coming out in late August/early September called Four Corners, which is a contemporary friends-to-lovers story set in Chicago. It’s a little angsty, but in a good way, I think. Otherwise, I’ve been working on the sequel to The Boy Next Door (this is Neal’s story and it’s an Out for You, so we shall see how that goes!) and I recently finished a contemporary novel with fantasy elements—there are immortals and magical objects and it’s really different from anything I’ve written before—that I’m still shopping around. I’ve got a half-dozen other things in the works, too—I’ve always got a few projects going at the same time!
Now that you have been published what is your biggest fear?
Obscurity, I think, or putting out a book that everybody hates. I want to try new things and take risks as a writer, and that could mean putting out a book that falls flat.
Tell us a couple of fun things about Kate.
I collect old Harlequin novels. The more ridiculous the premise, the better. I can’t explain why, but I’m a total sucker for these. Another great thing about living in Brooklyn is that people are always putting random boxes of junk out on their stoops, and I’ve found a lot of crazy romance novels that way. (I also once found a baseball encyclopedia the same way. That turned out to be a handy reference when writing Out in the Field.) My best New York celebrity sighting of all time was spying Viggo Mortensen at the Met, although I regularly run into John Turturro in my neighborhood, often enough that I make jokes about him stalking me. (Probably he thinks I’m stalking him. I’m not, I swear!) Being the extroverted type, I like going out. Some friends and I once got an entire bar full of strangers to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which counts as a great night in NYC as far as I’m concerned. (I love dancing and karaoke. I’m not actually good at either of these things, but that doesn’t stop me. Recently, I was at a gay bar that had a dance floor and no one was dancing, so I took it upon myself to get the ball rolling. It’s possible I was a little under the influence at the time.)
In closing, what is the one thing you want us to remember about Kate McMurray?
Well, I hope people remember to check out my books if they haven’t! 🙂 Seriously, though, I try to tell a good story in my over-educated New Yorker way, and I hope people find my stories enjoyable.
Thank you for spending time with us Kate.
Thank you! This was fun!
Kate McMurray’s Contact Information:
@katemcmwriter on Twitter