Sunday, February 20, 2011

Interview: Kathryn Shay

OK, so I make no bones about the fact that I'm a Kathryn Shay fangirl. She writes deep, insightful romance with characters that always touch me deeply. Her books have made my Best of the Year and almost never fail to make my gut clench at some point in the reading.(Best of the Year: The Perfect Family and Trust in Me.)

She has a new series out called The Educators, written about a group of teachers and administrators in a small town, which I'm loving. And she just released a whole host of her backlist. Both of these things, she's self-publishing - a trend that has been fascinating to me as I see more and more of the authors that I read dip their toes into it. Please welcome Kathryn Shay:

IJFR: Your books are always more than what one would expect. By that, I mean that you always take on some issue that forces a deeper look, whether it’s a societal taboo or a hot topic of the day. Do you approach the books with the message in mind already that you want to speak about, or does it evolve for you as the book goes on?

KS: Great question that gave me pause. I’d have to say that I mostly know what “issues” I want to deal with before I start a book. For instance, in my firefighter series, I knew I wanted to show the real lives of today’s firefighters. I wanted to show how their jobs affect their personality, or vice versa. Once I get into the book, though, I discover other things about the character and themes. For example, I knew I wanted NOTHING MORE TO LOSE to be about a man who lost the use of his legs in 9/11 but I didn’t know he’d be lured back into firefighting by teaching at the fire academy and in the process find meaning in his life again. In PROMISES TO KEEP, I knew the book would be about Secret Service agents going under cover in a modern high school to ferret out potential violence, but I didn’t know the dynamics of the students, that one of the heroes would have such a tortured background, that the younger agent would fall for his “teacher.” In the end, I’d say yes, I probably know the issue, but not how it will work out.

IJFR: I thought The Perfect Family was a fantastic, realistic, painful, and uplifting story of family dynamics when a teen comes out about his homosexuality. What inspired you to write a book like this, so different from your traditional romances?

KS: As most people know by now, I have a gay son. When Ben came out, my family went through some life changes. Since I had a writing background, I thought, “Oh, I could write a book about this.” The story is not autobiographical, but it has some elements of what happened to us in it. What I’m saying is I knew I could do a good job with this kind of story. (It had all the earmarks of a Kathryn Shay book.) When I was finished, I realized that I wished I had a book like THE PERFECT FAMILY to read when my son came out. That might sound arrogant, but no one told me about the ambushes that might occur—a problem at school crops up unexpectedly, a neighbor reacts badly, people pull through that you don’t expect to, and the constant worry about your child. Of course, things get better after a while, having a gay child becomes a fact of life, as I say in the book, but initially, I had no idea what to expect—a lot like Maggie and Mike in the story.

And I very much enjoyed going out of my genre and expect to do so again. There is romance in the book, but the novel is more in the women’s fiction and young adult genre, so I’ve been working in the vein a bit, too.

IJFR: Tell us about your new Educators series.

KS: I love stories about high school teachers and kids, and most that I read don’t quite capture the feel of the building, the interaction between adults and students, the real way kids behave. So since I had my backlist up already, I thought, “Well, this would be fun. I’ll write school stories and see how new work does.” (It’s doing well, btw.)

The premise is another one of those issues we talked about above—troubled teens are helped (or hindered) by the teachers they have in school, or by their parents at home. I like creating kids who need adults to care, mostly because I always believed that was my role as a teacher. I also had teachers when I was in high school who helped me with a pretty dysfunctional home life. So I know the need for good teachers from both ends. And I’m VERY tired of people criticizing teachers for their time off, or their short day or for tenure. I found teaching to be one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done in my life, physically, psychologically and emotionally. The average person doesn’t really know how a good teacher (and I emphasize good) invests everything in her job and her kids.

IJFR: Why did you choose to move away from your traditional publishers in order to tell both The Perfect Family and The Educators series?

KS: This is a very complicated issue for me. First let me say, I’d like to go back to a major house at some time, but for now, what I’ve done is working for me. I published THE PERFECT FAMILY with Bold Strokes Books because they’re primarily an LGBT press and I believed the story would get the treatment it deserved. I was right. But another factor was that my agent at the time didn’t really “like” the last version. (This was after working on it together for five years, in between other contracts.) So we parted ways, at my initiation, and instead of going through the process of getting another agent or seeking out a bigger press, I decided to go with my heart--and Bold Strokes. It was a good decision!

As for the other houses, I left Harlequin in 2010 because of artistic differences. I felt bad about it because they were my first publisher, but the line I wrote for was going in a different direction, a place I didn’t want to go, nor do I think I could have gone. So we parted ways amicably. But I’d write for the company in a second if I could write how and what I wanted, as I’d done for 15 years. At this point in my career, after 40 books, I want to choose my stories carefully and tell them as I see fit and I can do that online. Again, I’m thinking hard about women’s fiction, and have a book that I wrote after the HQ breakup that I’m going to self-pub which is in that genre. And I’m thinking about getting another agent.

IJFR: You recently gained rights to your backlist, and decided to rerelease them all yourself rather than through your traditional publishing house. Why?

KS: Well, that’s an easy answer. Money. I’m making over two dollars per book and selling hundreds. I’m not sure a print version of my backlist could compete.

IJFR: What’s coming next that we should be looking for?

KS: More backlist books, since I’m getting rights back for early Harlequins. Second, I have two women’s fiction stories that I haven’t sold to print publishers yet (one is mentioned above). I love both of them and want readers to see them, too. And—back by popular demand because I get requests for this every day—I’m writing about firefighters again. [ETA: Squee!!!!]  This time I thought I’d try 6 short stories (around 12K words each) about other fire fighters at the Hidden Cove Fire Department, with cameos of those who appeared in the Berkley firefighter trilogy. I expect it will be a month or so before I finish. Meanwhile, look for the two new bigger books and my backlist from Harlequin.

Thanks a lot for letting me share my work and ideas with readers. I appreciate the time and effort you put into this.

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your thoughts with us!

You can buy her latest releases here:
The Perfect Family: Amazon (paper/Kindle), Bold Strokes (ebook/print)
Still the One (book 1 in The Educators): Kindle/Smashwords
Someone Like You (book 2 in The Educators): Kindle/Smashwords
Maybe This Time (book 3 in The Educators): Kindle/Smashwords


  1. Lori,
    Thanks for having me on your site. I appreciate your loyalty and love of my work. It's great to be in touch with you and readers through you.
    Kathy Shay

  2. Enjoyed the interview. Amazing that you've written 40 books, and it's inspiring to learn that you are following your heart creatively.

  3. Thanks for the interview - very interesting!

  4. Wow, I didn't realize Ms Shay had over 40 books written!! Awesome and great career :) It's good for her to take her career into her own hands :)

    Great interview, Lori :)

  5. Wonderful interview. Best of luck, Kathy, in this new world of ebook publishing!

    Miriam Minger, Author

  6. Thank you Ms. Shay and Lori for the wonderful interview.

    That's so good that you can follow your heart in your writing. I think that comes through to readers when we read the books that you want to write.

    I do have some of your books Ms. Shay and look forward to adding more to my TTB list. :)

  7. Great interview!

    I read my first Kathryn Shay book this month, The Perfect Family (recommended by Lori). I found it to be a powerful story and I couldn't stop thinking about it or characters for days after I finished the book.

    Now, I must look at the rest of that extensive backlist. Thank you Ms. Shay and Lori.

  8. Oh Hils, I'm so glad you liked it!! Totally different from her romances. Try Trust in Me next. Awesome book.

    Thanks all for your comments!


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