If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future? Definitely back in time, probably to the 16thCentury and the European Renaissance, a time when the Earth and the arts were being widely explored. It was a golden age, Elizabeth I was queen of England, Shakespeare was madly writing masterpieces and the works of the Italian masters were being celebrated. Although created earlier, the art was and is a marvel. What attracts me to the period is the creative energy and the artistic possibilities. In terms of the entire century, British historian John Guy suggests “England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the period than at any time in a thousand years. Zowie! Take me there.
If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would you choose? Only five? Cheesh. That’s a hard one. There are so many accomplished people I’d like to share a meal with, but for my first soiree, I’d choose from the arts, science, letters, politics and sports. Impressionist painter Claude Monet would be among the guests and I’d insist the party be in his garden at Giverny. I’d select a yellow table cloth and blue chairs. Then I’d invite scientist Linus Pauling, novelist John Steinbeck, diplomat Condoleezza Rice and Olympic athlete Michael Phelps. Understand, however, this is merely the first party. There are many, many others I’d like to meet over a glass of wine and a slice of chocolate cake in a beautiful garden by candlelight.
If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you want with you? This is about what I can’t live without, right? A hard question. Perhaps my feather pillow, a family photo, pen and paper. I know this is four things, but really pen and paper are one in my mind.
What is one book everyone should read? For me, hands down, it’s John Steinbeck’sGrapes of Wrath. It had a big influence on me as a writer because it showed the value and nobility of my California experience, showed the importance of writing from a place of deep understanding, informed by social and political values.
If you were a superhero what would your name be? Superman! As a journalist, I’d love to be a mild-mannered reporter who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, plus I like the look of a heavy jaw and double-breasted suits.
If you could have any superpower what would you choose? The ability to fly. I live in Sacramento on the Pacific Flyway, the migratory route for millions of birds. Fall around here is always alive with birds—Sandhill cranes, herons, ducks, geese, tundra swans. It’s glorious and I always look forward to visiting the refuges and wetlands near my home. The ability to fly is a wonder to me.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Jamoca Almond Fudge with chocolate sauce. If you’re going to go into insulin shock, might as well go all the way. Modern-day Chocolate Moose Tracks works for me in a pinch. Please pass the hot fudge.
If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose? Mahatma Gandhi. I’d like to learn how to be serene and wise.
What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Pumpkin pie and coffee, boysenberry pie if nothing else is available
Night owl, or early bird? Early, early bird, so early I often meet night owls in passing.
One food you would never eat? Tomato soup. It’s a long story, but I was once forced to eat it as a child, a contest of wills with my mother: “Eat it or you don’t leave the dinner table.” About midnight I gave in, deciding it was better to lose the battle and win the war. After that, it was game on!
Pet Peeves? Rudeness in all its guises. I hate it in myself and in others.
Skittles or M&Ms? Strictly an M&Ms kinda gal. My sons are named Mark & Mike, plain and peanut.
Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book. Adrift in the Soundis about what really happened to us in 1973, the end of an era, a contemporary history rendered with grit, verve and love that offers insights into our lives today.
Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects? My next book is about a third written. It’s set in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in the 1990s. An ambitious, but flawed, young woman is banished to the delta after a major professional indiscretion. She’s charged with creating a five-star resort for a major international hotel chain, but wants to manage a fancy hotel in San Francisco. Shuffled off to the boonies, she finds herself in the middle of California’s water wars. Faced with her own personal problems, teetering on collapse, just like the mansion and estate she’s been tasked with resurrecting, she must come to terms with herself, her employer and a beautiful ecosystem on the verge of collapse.
Future projects include work on my short story collection:Songs from the Caldera, perhaps a sequel toAdrift in the Sound, because so many readers say they want to know what happens to Lizette and baby Violet after the story ends, and a memoir about growing up without a father. The last time I saw my father I was about 10 years old. For nearly 50 years I didn’t know what happened to him. Now I know and I also know what 50 years of longing feels like. Because this is such a personal story, I’m going to have to think very carefully about what needs to be told. I’m currently studying memoir as literary form and researching.
What inspired you to want to become a writer? For me, life is story. It always has been. Ask me a question, you get a story. But, I decided to take my writing and storytelling seriously while attending San Francisco State University, which has an acclaimed English Department and creative writing program. I took my degree in journalism because, as a single mother, it was a way to support my children and practice my craft, which I’ve done for the past 30 years.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. Unexpectedly, a friend, a man, (not that kind of friend) sent me a note that he’d takenAdrift in the Soundon vacation to Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California and read it. He loved the book, loved that the story was set to a large extent on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State, and like most readers, he cared about what happened to the characters after the story ends. He saidAdrift in the Soundwas the best part of his vacation. I was thrilled by his response.
If you could jump into a book, and live in that world, which would it be? Perhaps the Antebellum South, brought to life in Margaret Mitchell’s bookGone with the Wind. I toured her home in Atlanta a few years ago and was struck by how small and cramped it was compared to her sweeping vision and story.
What is your dream cast for your book? Apparently every novelist harbors dreams of seeing their story turned into a movie and I’m no exception. I try not to be drawn into this fantasy, but I’m weak. So, my main character, the beautiful, fragile artist Lizette would be played by Lindsay Lohan or McKalay Maroney, depending on acting range, like I can be picky, LOL! Would someone please sendAdrift in the Soundto Lindsay or her mother?.
Her best friend Marian, might be a scruffy Jennifer Love Hewitt. Rocket, the sort-of love interest, Kato. Toulouse the poet: Johnny Depp looking scraggly. Unfortunately Keith Richard is way too old to play Toulouse, but he would have been perfect in his younger days. Sandy the little snake dancer, let’s see, maybe Britany Spears, but much rougher and more conniving.
What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen? Probably my earliest love was Scottish poet Robert Lewis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, my favorite poem: “Time to Rise.”
A birdie with a yellow bill Hopped upon my window sill, Cocked his shining eye and said: “Ain’t you ‘shamed, you sleepy-head!”
Is there a song you could list as the theme song for your book or any of your characters? I’ve worn out several CDs during the writing ofAdrift in the Sound, including blues man Taj Mahal’s albums “Giant Step” and “De Ole Folks at Home.” The lyrics from Taj’s version of “Light Rain Blues” appears with permission inAdrift in the Sound, as well as lyrics from “Six Days on the Road.” When asked if I could use lyrics from his album, Taj’s lawyer wrote: “Taj is cool with this.” Wish more lawyers talked that way.
What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors? Put the seat of your pants in the seat of the chair and just do it—write!
If you could choose only one time period and place to live, when and where would you live and why? At heart, I’m an Edwardian. I grew up in an Edwardian-style home on the edge of the gateway to San Francisco Bay. Our home had touches ofArt Nouveau, a beautiful Tiffany-style leaded glass skylight above the stairs to the second floor, gumwood paneling, hardwood floors inlaid with Philippine mahogany, leaded glass doors on the library book shelves, filled with leather-bound copies of the classics passed down from my great aunts and grandmother, and tons of popular books from Book-of-the-Month Club.
While in college I took an English class that required reading the complete works of Joseph Conrad. I’ve read many of the Edwardians: J. M. Barrie, who wrotePeter Pan, which I’ve read many times, dreaming I was Wendy; Rudyard Kipling, loving the short story “Rikki Tikki Tavi; and the plays of George Bernard Shaw, especially “Major Barbara.” Vita Sackville West.
If you could be one of the Greek Gods, which would it be and why? Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. Who wouldn’t want these attributes? I’ve always wanted to be a beautiful, noble warrior.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? In my childhood home, well, maybe not. Maybe West Marin County where my family had a small ranch while I was growing up. I love horses and dogs and long walks on the beach. Afraid I’m not much of an adventurer, more of a homebody. My idea of an exotic destination is Reno, Nevada.
What is your favorite Quote? “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato. This reminds me to go easy for everyone has an important story to tell from their battle. My job is to open my heart to listen and learn, not judge.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you “grew up”? Judith, Queen of France.
If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play the lead role and why? A young Elizabeth Taylor or Vivian Leigh—stunningly beautiful and so much more.
How did you know you should become an author? That’s like asking how did you know you should breathe. I have always told stories. Journalism is a small canvas, however, and I’ve always wanted to paint with words on a big expanse. Perhaps I have spent too much time thinking about and studying the masters. A better question might be how did you know it was OK not to be perfect? That’s a more important question for me. I think close examination of the world’s great writers can be paralyzing. I don’t recommend the approach.
Advice from many great writers to beginners is to write, don’t read the work of others and compare. I got confidence in telling a story fully from, of all places, Walter Mosley, a writer of Los Angeles mystery/detective novels. In his book,This Year You Write Your Novel,he said a novel has the space to tell a long story, but it’s not an excuse for sloppy writing. I got the sense from this that I could write as much as I want, but must be disciplined about using that much canvas. I recommend Mosley’s book on writing. It gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get on with who I am.
Who are your favorite authors of all time? John Steinbeck, always John, but Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, (maybe I’m a Russian novelist at heart. Who knows my heart? I’m too busy examining the hearts of others) Virginia Woolf, who always makes me feel like writing, James Joyce,Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset, author of the historical trilogy Kristen Lavransdatter set in 14thCentury Norway. I love big, meaty books.
Can you see yourself in any of your characters?I am in all of my characters, there in empathy and some understanding, at the very least. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to conceive them.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you? I had a wonderful editor, David Weinstein, when I worked as a freelance writer at the West County Times in Richmond California. I’d fallen down the stairs at home a couple of weeks before Christmas, had a house full of kids and several parties planned. I was late with a story to David. He accepted the story, it was pretty good, gave me another assignment. I was walking out of the news room and he stood at his desk in the far corner and pointed a long finger at me as I reached the door and said loud enough for every reporter hunched over their computers to hear: “Kate Campbell, you do your work!” That admonishment keeps me going, keeps me producing as a journalist and a novelist.
Hidden talent? I’m a very good swimmer, the result of years of training and swimming teams. Breast is my best stroke, but you probably would have guessed that.
Favorite Food? Chocolate
Favorite Candy? Chocolate
What movie and/or book are you looking forward to this year? Michael Chabon’sTelegraph Avenue. I lovedWonder Boys, read it while I was editingAdrift in the Soundand about fell over when I found the wonderful snake scene, which is different, but similar to what I’d written in my book. I felt a special affinity with his work after that, like we were traveling some of the same creative terrain.
Nickname? Kate is my nickname, my nickname is me, and it’s my byline, my personae. Those who know me—love or hate me—call me Katherine.
How do you react to a bad review? So far I haven’t had a bad review, but whenAdrift in the Soundwas critiqued in workshop and I got feedback like: “Banal writing. The main character isn’t loveable. Ordinary narrative, not enough drama. The writing sounds like it’s copied from Wikipedia. Who cares about a bunch of junkies? Boring.” I couldn’t write for six months after that. I cried. I doubted. I took up knitting. I hated myself and I got over it.Adrift in the Soundis a better book because of those critiques.
If you were a bird, which one would you be? Red-tailed hawk, perched on a tree top, hunting.
If you could have a signed copy of any novel what would it be and why? The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, because of the jazz-age panache.
You have won one million dollars what is the first thing that you would buy? A small ranch in a beautiful location and invite everyone I love to visit.
What do you do in your free time? When I’m not practicing yoga, I’m outdoors gardening, hiking, kayaking, camping. I hate being cooped up inside.
Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your day starting with when you wake up till you lie down again. I don’t recommend this schedule, but it’s what I do to get by. Up at 4 a.m., coffee & toast, at my desk at home by 4:30 a.m. writing, breakfast from 6:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., shower and dress for work, at my desk at work as a reporter and editor by 7:30 a.m., home by 4:30 p.m. Then I catch up on messages, email, before checking the news and then going to the club to workout from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., in bed for about an hour’s reading of books—novelists I’m studying, writing craft, research for reporting assignments
I follow this schedule, with slight variation, seven days a week, even if my butt falls off. Weekends I invest eight to ten hours a day in my writing practice and squeeze in housekeeping and shopping. I read that Stephen King was asked this same question and he didn’t want to admit that he adhered to his writing schedule seven days a week, holidays included, didn’t want to seem too obsessed or nerdy. I understand how he felt, but, for me, it’s the only way I can get the writing done. I try to explain the discipline it takes to write—as a journalist or a novelist—and people’s eyes glaze over. But, I want to be clear that I love what I’m doing. I choose to do this. It’s fun.
What’s your favorite season/weather? Fall, it’s an end and a beginning.
How did you celebrate the sale of your first book? I had a big party at the Comedy Spot, a stand-up comedy nightclub in mid-town Sacramento, had a cake made with an edible version of my book cover on it, read too long to family and friends, got bouquets of flowers, kissed and hugged, sold lots of books.
What is your guilty pleasure? Lemon meringue pie, with black coffee, on my back patio in late afternoon, followed by a nap.
What TV show/movie/book do you watch/read that you’d be embarrassed to admit? True crime stories, can’t help looking at other people’s train wrecks. My favorite TV show is CSI, especially the gritty Las Vegas version.
Finish the sentence- one book I wish I had written is…. Orlandoby Virginia Woolf, the concept of metamorphosis and gender shifting is so deftly handled. Second place goes to Ernest Hemingway’sOld Man and the Sea. No human being should be allowed to write that beautifully. It’s a crime, really.
Favorite places to travel? I’m not a big traveler. I’ve been too busy working and raising boys by myself, but when I do travel, I love to be in Lake Tahoe, Yosemite or California’s North Coast. To walk in the mountains or stand among the redwoods is to transcend the hum drum of ordinary life.
Favorite music? Low down, funky, black dog blues. I like music with grit that makes me shake my booty. Don’t get me wrong, I like all music, but we’re talking favorites here.
In your wildest dreams, which author would you love to co-author a book with? Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Janet Fitch, Caroline Leavitt, Cheryl Strayed, Lynn Freed, Pam Houston, Joy Haro. Sorry, can’t name just one. There are so many accomplished writers my list could go on and on. God, I love these women and learn so much from them.