Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of suspenseful fiction about ‘crap marriages and murder’ which she is quick is say is not autobiographical. Ha. J THE VANISHING YEAR (Atria 2016) follows THOUGHT I KNEW YOU (2012), BINDS THAT TIE (2014), and WHILE YOU WERE GONE (2016). Upcoming in 2017 will be THE YEAR OF THE BLACKBIRDS (Atria). Kate, a scientist who works in the pharmaceutical industry, lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, children, and dog.
Thank you for joining us, Kate. We are thrilled to have you!
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up? How did it impact the woman you’ve become?
I grew up in a one stoplight town in Eastern Pennsylvania. My parents had no money, my dad was a teacher, my mom stayed at home. I’m not sure I stayed in a hotel room until I was eighteen and could pay for it myself. Our vacations were camping. In my memories, my childhood was very feral – we ran, we played, we came home late.
My parents had a shallow well that would run dry quite a bit. We sometimes bathed in the creek behind my house. I’m sure it was less idyllic than in my memory. I think much of my childhood, and of course the sepia-toned lens in which I view it, gave me a certain resilience and stick-to-it-ness.
There was also a tremendous amount of time spent in the woods, daydreaming. I had lots of neighborhood friends but I liked being alone quite a bit.
What is your day job?
I’m a scientist. Well, I used to be a bench level scientist in the R&D labs of a large pharmaceutical company. When the writing thing seemed to take off, I scaled back to part time and now I work mostly from home, commuting in for meetings. I am now a technical writer for the same(ish) department. People ask me if I want to leave if the writing blows up. I can’t say for certain but I don’t think I would. I like it, and I love the company I work for.
It changes so much! And I never have just one. Right now, it’s fug, presentiment, rictus, raffish, sluicing, scudded. I’m trying to work them into my WIP. I keep a list in Google docs. This is hopelessly geeky, I know. I need to be able to access my word list from anywhere.
Good old fashioned warm brownie with vanilla ice-cream.
This one is tough. I do a ton of embarrassing things, but none of them would ever be called a talent (and I could fill this page with them). I would say my most unmarketable talent is probably planning a day trip. I love to do it. If you ask me to plan you a day in any city, I adore organizing the day, figuring out how to make the most of the city map, spend the right amount of time at x museum, while getting lunch at y. I love researching things to do, the order in which to do them, and organizing that into a full day (or two!).
You’ve lived all your life in Pennsylvania. If you were to pick another place to call home, where would it be?
Either New York City or somewhere warm, like Florida. I love the bustle of New York, it’s my very favorite city on earth but I’m so tired of winter. The ice and the snow and the closures and the traffic and the gray-ness. By February every year, I could lose my mind.
The main character of THE VANISHING YEAR is a young woman married to a very controlling man. The reader senses danger where Zoe talks herself out of her discomfort in ways common to women involved in abusive relationships. What research did you do to understand how Zoe would respond to, interpret, and rationalize her husband’s behavior? Were there any parts that you found difficult to write?
This was a fine line to walk, for sure. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, thank goodness, so I couldn’t rely on my personal experience. I definitely did research. Forums on the internet are good for understanding the wide range of emotions: guilt, fear, the self-talk.
I talked to a few psychologists to understand the things Henry might do to subtly manipulate her: from not drinking the wine she buys to leaving her cash on the counter to his lashing out. The whole thing was difficult to write, I think. It’s hard to balance realistic emotions with a suspense plot. The suspension of disbelief has to be there first and foremost.
Your stories typically have a number of reveals, including a red herring or two. How do you keep straight all the loops? How do you know when to release a reveal?
I don’t keep the loops straight! I do summarize the plot over and over again in my Scrivener file, but even now, I get confused. Vanishing was tough because despite appearances, there was only one coincidence in the whole plot. The rest of it is all Dominoes. In the beginning, there were more coincidences and then beta readers or my editor would say tie this or that up and I’d have to trace it back, insert it somewhere.
For example, Henry met Tara at the library. He later suggested that Zoe hold her event at the same library. I was at a book club recently and someone pointed that out. It’s so minor, I forgot about it. It was a loop I made late in the editing process and I had no idea what she was talking about. So, that was embarrassing.
What themes did you explore in this novel? Were any of them a surprise to you?
I keep writing various riffs on identity. It’s getting old now, maybe in my old age of thirty-eight, I’m finally becoming happy with who and where I am? Impossible. My themes are always a surprise to me. I pick something I sort-of-kind-of want to explore and then I write the plot and characters. Only later do the true themes emerge, which is fun. Then I can go back and underscore them.
In Vanishing, Zoe is constantly having to reinvent herself, at least superficially. She’s the college girl, then the drop-out druggie, then the hipster-ish punk with the fishnet stockings, then Henry’s Wife. She seems to float into whatever identity she finds, making no real attempt to become herself. She recognizes this, too. This was sort of an exaggerated version of my (and maybe most people’s?) twenties and early thirties. We try on a lot of personas: girlfriend, career woman, new wife, new mother. It can be exhausting but part of the gig of growing up.
Where do you get your story ideas? How do they come to you?
Honestly, they come from other stories. Movies, books, television shows (of which I watch precious little, unfortunately), the news, even commercials. Stories are absolutely everywhere. I’m fascinated by high stakes – life and death, so I think my books will all be suspenseful.
One of my favorite books on earth is The Accidental Tourist, but I could never, ever write it. I need an element of the fantastic to really get a thrill from writing. I have a file of story ideas, some more fleshed out than others. I’ll challenge myself: with Vanishing, I wanted to see if I could pull of a shocking ending.
With my next book The Blackbird Season, I wanted to see if I could write a multiple point-of-view, dual timeline book. I adore non-linear storytelling. The book I’m drafting now, I made myself come up with a high concept logline. In short, I come up with ideas two ways: random inspiration from something I see/read/hear. These go into the file. But, other times, I will purposefully set out to do something new and force myself to think about a specific goal for a long time. The best is when an idea from the file gels with one of my goals. Then it’s like kismet.
What part of writing a novel is the most difficult for you? What is your trick at overcoming it? What part is the easiest?
The part of actually writing is the most difficult part of writing! I’m not being smart-alecky. When I read the quote “I don’t love writing, I love having written”, I literally thought oh THANK GOD. I overcome it with word count goals. Just sit down and write the damn thing.
By the time I get to 1 or 2K, I’m in love with myself. It’s embarrassing. When I read it over before I start the next writing session, I’ll think Oh, good grief this is utter crap. Then the cycle repeats. The easiest, most fun part for me is coming up with a premise. I even come up with story ideas I LOVE but can’t ever write (because brand, genre, etc) so I will message all my writer friends and say CAN YOU WRITE THIS FOR ME.
To my knowledge, two of them have taken me up on it and are writing books that originated from my weird story ideas. I won’t tell you who they are and what they are, and truthfully, they’ve veered wildly off course from my original premises (which is perfect, it’s theirs now). But I love that part so much, I’m thrilled I could jump start anyone.
What was it like hearing that you became a New York Times bestseller? Where were you? How did you hear the news?
Oh it was a crazy day. THOUGHT I KNEW YOU had been on Bookbub and a sale and skyrocketed to #2 in the Amazon Kindle store. It hung there for a while, and I jumped up and down and took screenshots but then, you know life goes on.
About two weeks later, I received a Facebook message from an agent who asked me to call him. I called him from my car, in the parking lot of my job, where he told me it landed on the New York Times bestseller list and would I be interested in representation? The most surreal moment of my life.
I cried and told him I’d call him back, and then I called my mom and my husband (in that order). Of course, I did eventually call him back, he’s now my agent, Mark Gottlieb (and he’s fantastic).
Tell us about your publishing journey. You started with a small indie press. How did you learn about them? What went into that decision? What did you learn there?
I was very, very lucky with Red Adept Publishing. Their contracts are short, simple and straightforward. There is a definitive contract expiration, and no option clause. I believe these two points are key with a small publisher, only because you have no idea what kind of job they’re going to do. With a large publisher, their track records are known. You can rely on (hopefully) some media coverage for marketing.
With a small press, the only thing you have is their word. You need a way out. They were completely new when I submitted to them. They posted on a writer’s forum that they were taking submissions. With a five year expiration, no option clause, I had nothing to lose. I had a day job, two babies at home.
Writing was a hobby at the time, not a career. I wanted to publish the book. I learned a ton while I was there. I truly believe my editor taught me how to write. I knew the bones, the basics. She guided me in a way no craft book ever could. I was so fortunate.
How does that experience compare with the experience you are having now at a large house, Simon and Schuster’s Atria?
Honestly, it’s like two completely different careers. The way I managed my writing career at RAP is completely different than what I’m doing at S&S. With my small press books, I focused a ton on the internet: social media, local media, online book clubs, price point marketing, ads and sales. With S&S, I’m definitely doing more events, speaking engagements, talks, that kind of thing. It’s been a learning curve.
I’m not the world’s best public speaker but I’m getting better. I’m enjoying it much more than I thought I would. I’m constantly amazed at the opportunities a larger publisher has afforded me. It’s an exciting time, for sure.
You do a ton of grassroots marketing. Can you tell us about that? How does one budget for marketing? You once got 1,000 entries when you did a book club giveaway. How do you find the book clubs?
That bookclub giveaway was kind of amazing. It was years ago, there was less of this kind of thing, and Rafflecopter was relatively new. I offered to give away up to ten Kindle copies and ten hardcopies of THOUGHT I KNEW YOU to a lucky book club. I’ve seen this giveaway all over since (not because of me at all, it’s not an incredibly original idea).
I put it out there on social media and I think I promoted it on Facebook. To enter, they had to fill out how many members in their book clubs and their email addresses. We picked a winner and my publisher lowered the price for 2 days to $0.99. I emailed all the entrants and told them they didn’t win, but could pick up a copy for $1 and encouraged them to forward to the other bookclub members. I think we sold a few hundred copies that day. I thought this was great!
For a small press, it is great. These are the kinds of marketing campaigns that you can do with indie published or small press. You can play with price points and figure out creative ways of letting people know about sales.
With a larger publisher, they’re much less willing to work with you on pricing. Which is fine! There are other benefits. I never had a fixed budget for marketing. I did whatever I could afford, and whatever I had the time/energy for. If you burn out and do nothing, you never get anywhere. I’ve always challenged myself to get “just one more reader today”. If I built my audience slowly, I was okay with that.
What blogs/organizations can you recommend to our members for support – career, craft, and otherwise? How can writers best support one another?
There are tons and tons of organizations for support! WWWB, for one J. Then, I’m a member of Tall Poppy Writers, an organization which promotes women writers (and not just other members). We thrive on the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. For craft, I love Writer Unboxed, Writer’s Digest, Writers in the Storm. I love reading Chuck Wendig’s blogs and the forums at Absolute Write are a great place to vet advice and information.
How can readers best support writers?
Buy books! Or get them from a library. Don’t download pirated copies, please, please. Write a short but honest review. Don’t be mean. You can be honest and not mean.
Writers are people. If you love a book, tell your mom, your best friend, your Starbucks barista. Follow them on social media. Let them know you love them and why. It’s not weird and creepy, it’s awesome and it’s why we do this.
What is the most meaningful or helpful mantra you lean on in this crazy career of ours?
I have three.
The writing is the thing. It’s why I started this. When I get the green-eyes or the “why not me’s” (it happens to everyone), I think shut up you little jerk, people would kill to be where you are now, you wanted to write for a living and now you’re writing. So write. Sit down and write if you love it so much and shut up. The writing is the thing. Everything else is noise.
Forever forward. I never go back in my manuscript until I type THE END the first time. I never edit, I never tweak. I just keep going and going and going. Which means sometimes, people change ages in the middle of chapter ten and that’s ok. Forever forward.
You can run really fast if you’re being chased. For me, I write really well under pressure. I like deadlines and I stick to them. If I’m not being chased, I know I’ll slack off.
I have all three of these written on notecards, pinned to my corkboard in my office.
Film or Television?
Heels or Flats?
Wine or Beer?
Sporting Event or Concert?
Thank you, Kate! We support you now and always. J
THE VANISHING YEAR
Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.
What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.
The Vanishing Year combines the classic sophistication of Ruth Rendell and A.S.A. Harrison with the thoroughly modern flair of Jessica Knoll. Told from the point-of-view of a heroine who is as relatable as she is enigmatic, The Vanishing Year is an unforgettable new novel by a rising star of the genre.
Nominated for “Best Mystery & Thriller” by Goodreads Choice Awards 2016
“Great pacing and true surprises make this an exciting read. Fans of twisted thrillers featuring complex female characters will devour Moretti’s latest.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“The Vanishing Year is intimate, conversational company, and its plot is strong, its closing twists superb.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Moretti maintains a fast pace…chillingly satisfying.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Fans of S. J. Watson, Lisa Unger, and Sophie Hannah will enjoy this fast paced psychological suspense novel.” (Booklist)
“This psychological thriller evolves into sheer terror…the outcome will amaze readers.” (RT Magazine)
“Readers will wonder who is good, evil, or simply the victim of misguided thinking as they devour bestselling author Kate Moretti’s latest book, full of expertly placed screens and revelations.” (BookPage)
“Some of the most suspenseful writing in the genre…adroitly written.” (Crime Time Magazine)
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MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and opening pages editing as The Query Quill. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction and is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day.