Catherine West’s debut novel, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, an inspirational contemporary romance, releases in March 2011 from Oak Tara Publishing.
I had the privilege of meeting Cathy a few years ago in her beautiful home country of Bermuda, when she kindly took time to have tea with a fellow member of American Christian Fiction Writers (despite neither of us being American…)
Janet: Welcome, Cathy, and congratulations on your upcoming novel! Let’s start by getting to know you.
Cathy: Hi Janet, thanks for having me! Well, like Janet says, I live in Bermuda, which is a small island about 700 miles off the coast of North Carolina, so we’re pretty close to the States, but we’re actually a British colony. I was born and raised here.
Janet: What got you started writing?
Cathy: I’d have to say I’ve always loved to write. English was my best subject in school. I started to read at an early age, and read pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. I had a vivid imagination and spent a lot of time daydreaming, which got me into lots of trouble at school. I think getting into writing fiction was just a natural progression of who I am and the abilities I’d been given.
Janet: Tell us a bit about Yesterday’s Tomorrow.
Cathy: Yesterday’s Tomorrow is one of those ‘book-of-the-heart’ stories for me. The idea came completely out of the blue – a female journalist goes to Vietnam to cover the war. I was told several things. 1. It’s been done. Maybe not the exact same story, but similar ones about Vietnam can be found, and also a ton of movies. 2. I’d be getting in way over my head. Too much research. No way to keep it authentic. 3. It would never fly. Nobody wants to discuss the Vietnam War let alone read about it. Certainly not in CBA.
I didn’t really care. While the story does take place during a war, it is a love story. And it’s character driven, so I didn’t really think the war thing would be a major drawback. I knew this was the story I had to write, so I went for it. I also knew it was a story that needed to be told with a Christian worldview in mind, and I didn’t want to settle for taking out the spiritual message and trying to sell it in ABA. So I wrote it, but I wasn’t really sure what would happen with it.
Truthfully, it was a tough sell. The naysayers were right, and I began to wonder why I’d just spent a year and a half writing and re-writing something that would never get past the files in my Mac. We actually put it on the shelf for a year. During that time, I just couldn’t let it go. Somehow I just knew it wasn’t over. So this past year we tried again with some smaller publishers that were more open to different topics, and Oak Tara jumped on it.
Janet: Where did the story idea come from?
Cathy: Honestly, I don’t really know. Years ago, I wrote a very similar story, very badly I might add. I kept the idea on file in my head I suppose, and when the time was right, it came back to me.
Janet: How did you research conditions in the Vietnam War? And did you pick up any odd bits of trivia that you’d like to share?
Cathy: I knew that if I was going to write authentically, I’d have to know what I was talking about. I began by purchasing every book on The Vietnam War that I could find. One in particular was brilliantly helpful – War Torn – Stories of War by the Women Who Reported the Vietnam War – a compilation of stories from nine female journalists that covered the war. (Random House, 2002).
I spent months scouring the Internet, reading Veteran blogs and websites. One thing I found interesting was that there weren’t too many people who were willing to talk about it. I was extremely blessed to be connected with the husband of a fellow ACFW member who served in Vietnam. His initial help with my early draft, wise counsel and sharing of information was instrumental in getting me off in the right direction. At one point in my researching, I remember writing to him and saying something along the lines of, “I don’t really understand it, but I feel like I’m stepping on holy ground.” His response, “You are.”
I picked up a ton of slang from that era as well as Army talk, none of which I can repeat here! It’s not really trivia, but in one scene, Kristin has to learn how to drive an Army Jeep. That was fun. I didn’t actually drive one myself, but I did receive some very helpful instructions from guys who had. I kind of wonder if I’d be able to!
Janet: Okay, I’m going to ask a question I personally hate answering. Feel free to pass. What’s the novel’s theme? Or what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Cathy: For this book, the question is easy. It’s multi-layered, but I believe that my characters learn about redemption, forgiveness and restoration. When you live through a war, that changes you. I’m not sure anyone can walk out of a war zone and be the same. You have to learn how to put things in perspective again. You may have done things you’re not proud of, but you’re redeemable. Things may have been done to you, and somehow you have to forgive your transgressors.
Ultimately, in time, restoration will happen. It won’t happen overnight, but if you believe that God works all things together for good, then on some level, you can begin to find your way back to wholeness. This is something I struggled with a great deal while writing this story – I’ve never been in a war zone. I haven’t experienced the horrific things my characters did. But I know what it is to suffer emotionally, and I know that you don’t get through that without faith, a knowledge that eventually God will step in and things will change. I didn’t want to come across as sounding trite or preachy, but ultimately, I have to believe this is true.
Janet: Is there another novel in the works?
Cathy: Yes. My agent is shopping a manuscript called Hidden in the Heart, which is a women’s fiction novel, loosely based on my own experience of searching for and finding my birth family. I’m also working on a family-saga type novel called Reprisal, and a contemporary romance called First Harvest.
Janet: You’re busy! But that’s good. Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Cathy: My family has gone through a few major things in the past few years. Some struggles we did not expect. Challenges and unexpected trials, and the loss of my two-month old great niece a couple of years ago. Several songs got me through some hard days, “Cry to Jesus” by Third Day, “Faithful One” by Brian Doerksen, and “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman. My life verse is probably cliché, but it’s Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Janet: “Blessed Be Your Name” has helped me through some rough places too. I think music takes us back to what you said earlier about suffering and waiting for God to bring wholeness.
What do you like best about the writing life?
Cathy: I love that I can stay home and do this! It’s a blast to just lose myself in another world for a few hours at a time – when I’m really into a story and things are going well, there’s nothing like it!
Janet: What do you like least?
Cathy: Getting through the first draft. I’m a seat-of-the-pantster, so I find it really difficult to plot beforehand. I may work from a rough outline, but I really have no idea where the story is going until I’m finished. I’m plagued by self-doubt the whole time, and I think I’ll get to the end and have to trash the whole thing because nothing makes sense! That’s not usually true, but I do a lot of revisions from that point on.
Janet: What do you do to get away from it all? Or on a lovely island like Bermuda, is that as simple as heading for the beach or the nearest garden?
Cathy: No. Familiarity breeds contempt. J I have to get on a plane to get away from it all! We have a summer home in Northern Ontario, on a beautiful quiet lake. That’s definitely a great retreat for me. Other fun trips are going to the US to spend time with my sister, which always involves shopping, or going to Toronto for a few days to catch up with my college-aged daughter, and that definitely involves shopping too!
Janet: What’s the most surprising/fun/zany/scary thing you’ve ever done?
Cathy: The scariest thing I’ve ever done is deciding to get serious about publication. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for, but really, putting myself out there, sending off query letters and sample chapters to agents and editors was WAY out of my comfort zone. And then there was attending my first writers conference, alone. THAT was scary. But after about ten minutes, I knew I’d come home. 🙂
Janet: That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I certainly relate. The sending out of our work is scary enough, but then there’s the opening of the reply when/if it comes… that’s terrifying. I’m glad you persevered to get a “yes” response for Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and I hope there are plenty more acceptances in your future. Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Cathy. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.
About Yesterday’s Tomorrow:
It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined.
As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while desperately trying to keep tabs on her only brother who enlisted some time ago, but both tasks seem impossible.
When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.
[Click here to read an excerpt from Yesterday’s Tomorrow, or here to visit Catherine West’s website.]