Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Katherine F. Cobb

Please tell us a little about yourself.  I was born and raised in California, earning my bachelor’s degree in advertising before becoming involved in that industry. Writing was always a lifelong dream. As a kid, I wrote plays from existing books and drafted kids in the neighborhood to perform them then graduated to short stories. Today, I straddle both worlds. I own a small marketing communications firm and I’ve been a professional writer and columnist for several regional magazines and newspapers since 2003. I won the West Virginia Press Association’s Best Lifestyle Columnist award in 2011 and earlier WVPA awards in 2009 and 2010. One of my short stories was published in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and an excerpt from an early version of Skyline Higher placed third in a statewide novel competition. It is still my dream to become a best selling novelist. I currently live in West Virginia.

What type of books do you like to read? What type if books do you like to write?  I enjoy reading books with a strong, original plot. I don’t have a favorite genre, but enjoy memoirs, fiction, young adult books and nonfiction (including cookbooks!). I recently enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I like writing both fiction and nonfiction, and am only getting started with topics.

What are your top 3 books? What are your top 3 authors?  Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is one of my all-time favorites. I also have immense respect for Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle. It was beautifully crafted but also told her story without any judgment despite the unusual circumstances of her family and life. I don’t mind saying how easily I devoured Stephanie Myers’ Twilight series. It was great fun despite the ridiculousness — an original love story at heart. I’ve read most books by Augusten Burroughs and Adriana Trigiani, and Judy Blume in my youth.

What inspires you to write?  I have always been compelled to write. The words crowd my brain until I get them down on paper. My head can be kind of a loud place sometimes — what starts as a whisper of ideas and thoughts slowly becomes a roar, gaining momentum until I sit down and unleash it. I write a newsletter (the audience is friends and family) every other month to help declutter my thoughts.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?  I am both. For my memoir, I literally sat down and wrote it in less than a week, but the theme made that very easy. For my novel, I did a rough outline, but a lot changed in the process and I didn’t mind going with the flow.

What time of day do you write?  I used to have more of a writing schedule, but since finishing my novel, I am only doing publication writing and that fits in my day easily because my assignments and columns are short.

What tool do you normally write with? (A pen, computer, phone, etc.)  A computer, the best invention ever for a writer! Sometimes but only rarely, I use a pen.

Have you ever dealt with writer's block? If so, how did you combat it?  Never had it and I’m grateful.

Please tell us a little bit about your work (please provide a link here if it's published somewhere online).  I am an editorial columnist. My columns run once a month in the Sunday paper. I also write the occasional feature (for the sports, life and general news sections) for the same publication and have written for a number of different newspapers and magazines in the four-state region. I have worked on three books, completing two. I am currently seeking an agent for my novel. I plan to revisit my completed memoir to see how I can improve it.

You can find my columns at:

How did you get into writing columns?  Our regional newspaper used to invite amateur writers from the community to submit their work, competing to be selected as one of their annual “community columnists.” The year I mustered the courage to submit my work, I was selected. A few years later, they asked me to be a regular columnist and I’ve been at it ever since. It is one of my most treasured writing assignments as I get to write about whatever topic I want.

Do you have a preference of what you write (fiction vs. nonfiction)?  Why or why not? I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction and have several topics pulling at me; I could write enough to fill a bookshelf in both categories!

What's the biggest difference you've found as a writer when writing fiction and non-fiction?  Since that first stint as a columnist, I honed my craft as a writer so I never dreamed it would be so hard to write fiction. It’s a totally different animal, requiring a different skill set. I am a naturally strong dialogue writer, but never wrote much description. I have a strong voice both in fiction and nonfiction, but that’s not enough to carry a novel. My weaknesses were exposed after I hired an editor to review my second draft. She tore it to pieces, and highlighted some embarrassing, elementary mistakes. I was so downtrodden, I put the manuscript away for six months until I could face it more objectively. When I did, it wasn’t quite so bad as I’d remembered and my motivation to transform it kicked in. The third and final draft is amazing. I feel accomplished for getting through the process, and I’m sure my next fiction attempt will be a hundred times easier.

Tell us a bit about your fiction, please.  Skyline Higher, a young adult novel, begins with 13-year-old Anna Trapani’s first day at Skyline High School in Oakland, California. Her life soon changes as she faces pressures from boys, friends and parents. A realistic coming-of-age story, sexual encounters, rape, pregnancy, physical abuse and drug and alcohol usage take place alongside typical teen activities like football games, cheerleading tryouts and slumber parties. Although set in 1978, today’s young women will easily relate to the feelings and dynamics those boy-crazy years bring as well as to the repercussions from the choices Anna makes. 

Where did you get your idea for this story?  The setting for my novel is the high school I attended during that timeframe, and many of the scenarios Anna faces were those lived by my friends and me. I’ve always wanted to tell a more realistic version of what young women contend with during this time in their lives versus the more Pollyanna stories that seem to permeate the genre.

As I was writing the novel, I also realized how much I wanted to share my own personal experiences with my readers, and I do so at the end of the book. My goal is to help young women feel less alone in their own struggles plus have an outlet to share with me through an author website. If this resonates with other girls, and they have someone they can relate and reach out to, it will make my particular journey worthwhile.

What challenges have you faced with writing this story?  Confidence. Not only in trying to learn the craft of telling the story, but in doing it justice.

Who is your favorite character to write?  There is a character in my novel named Jamie who couldn’t be further from who I am. I thoroughly enjoyed writing her dialogue because she is blunt, raucous, and sometimes lacks tact. It was pure fun.

What draws you to a book (to read)?  A strong voice, the promise of plot (exciting or unusual) and a theme that resonates (I’m a sucker for an emotional journey which is why I like the memoir). A recommendation goes a long way with me, too. The Twilight books came recommended because a friend said the writing reminded her of mine. I ignored her at first when I discovered they were “vampire books” but she kept insisting I read them. I was hooked after 10 pages, and flattered.

What are you currently reading?  I am reading The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change by Christiane Northrup. I’m at the beginning of this life process and freaking out a bit. I need to be better prepared and this book came highly recommended. The hard part is I’d rather be devouring some fiction right now, but maybe I’ll be able to work out both.

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