Kate Palmer is the mother of six and lives on a farm in the country, but in her spare time she’s taken to writing and her first novel, THE GUY NEXT DOOR, was published in September, 2012. But that’s a bare bones blurb. I like to go deeper.
KATE: I grew up in Logan, Utah. We had a huge garden, but that’s pretty much all in the way of farm preparation I got. It taught me that the weeding and picking had to be done no matter how I felt. However, farming is a whole other level of hard work. My in-laws work really hard and very long hours. They are happy, not at all grumpy about it, but you finish the job rain or shine. And you learn that you can’t control the weather and a lot of other things and how those circumstances affect your yield. You learn patience and do the best you can regardless. You learn that children are a big help. We couldn’t run the farm without them.
Also, dirt is everywhere. You will get dirty, and it’s okay.
(Personally, I believe farming is what made our country great. That kind of work builds character and binds families closer, as I think you’ve made clear.)
ME: I know your favorite children’s book was Squanto and the Pilgrims. Can you explain the fascination and tell us what your second favorite was?
KATE: I’ve always loved history and learning about other people and different cultures. (Me too!) I liked reading about Squanto helping the pilgrims. Raising crops is similar to the huge garden I had and my family hunts a lot. I think it was relatable to me. I was only in second grade. My second favorite book was Georgie and the Robbers. I had a record (Yes, I’m that old!) of the story that went with the book. I listened to it over and over again.
ME: I understand you never thought about being a writer until four years ago, but did you have a knack for English in school? What extracurricular activities were you involved with in high school? (And I’d love a picture of you during those years, preferably engaged in one of those activities.)
KATE: Drama was pretty much the only extracurricular activity I did. I was in the school play my junior and senior years. The Seminary Council also took up a lot my time, and was super fun.
(Yet another writer with a theater background. It makes perfect sense, of course.)
ME: What made you go into teaching and how has the profession changed over the years? Has it helped you in any way in your writing?
KATE: Teaching has always been my first love. I held summer school for my little brothers. My mom thought I was crazy. I liked helping kids in my class who didn’t understand their assignments. I love learning and I wanted children to enjoy the discovery of learning, not look at it as drudgery.
I quit teaching seventeen years ago so I’ve been out of the loop for a long time. However, from my perspective, it seems like there is so much pressure on the classroom teacher to make sure she spends the correct number of minutes on each subject, and there is so much more testing and teacher training going on. I often wonder how the teachers have time to implement all the training they receive. (You make a lot of valid points based on my own daughter’s experience…I think it’s become a much more stressful profession.) It’s a lot and I think that pressure to perform is passed on to the students. For most children, that’s not a positive learning atmosphere. I see that teaching has changed from being child-centered learning to performance based learning. The joy of learning can be lost if the teacher isn’t paying attention.
ME: Now four years ago, you’ve said in an interview, you read a book that completely transported you into its world. What book was that and why do you think it succeeded where other books had failed? Also, how has that particular book affected your own writing?
KATE: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer completely transported me into its world which was weird because it’s not a book I would have picked out for myself. (I had suspected that was the book.) In fact, it was on my desk for three months before I read it. I only read it then because I had run a half marathon the Saturday before Labor Day and by Labor Day morning my muscles didn’t want to get out of bed. I jokingly told my daughter to make breakfast for me and she agreed. I told her I needed something to do if I were going to stay in bed so she brought me the book off my desk. I unwillingly began to read. By the end of September, I’d read the entire series.
I wanted to know how Stephanie Meyer had transported me so I began studying how to write. (This would be my love for learning showing itself.) I analyzed Meyer’s work and determined it was the emotion that enveloped me. I think that’s her strength. She did a lot of other things right structurally, as well, but she’s superb at creating emotion within the reader.
I try really hard to make that emotional connection with my readers, as well. Scene and sequel was another big lesson I found in her work. Everything is happening in real time in her books. The reader experiences it with the character. There isn’t a lot of summary. That led me to study Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. That has revolutionized my writing.
ME: Living on a farm as you do, what has been the most outlandish experience you’ve had, and have you ever thought about writing something set on a farm or using some of your farm experiences (such as finding manure in your laundry) in your fiction? (And please provide a photo of you and your family on the farm.)
KATE: Finding manure in my laundry was pretty shocking, but I’ve found it other places in my house unfortunately.
My brother-in-law AI-ed (Articficially Inseminated) our milk cow one year. I wasn’t home at the time. Instead of going to his house to clean up, he stopped at mine. I’m pretty sure he was clean because it—you know the stuff—was all over my sink and towels.
I’d have to say the most outlandish experience has been butchering our own chickens. We did it for three years. I DO NOT recommend it. (Yeah, but maybe you should think about auditioning for “Survivor.”)
I definitely want to use my farm experiences in future works. My current work in progress is set on a working cattle ranch. I want to show people what it’s really like to live on a ranch—particularly the amount of work involved. That’s missing in so much western and historical fiction.
In the photo: My sister-in-law and I hold a rogue calf while my father-in-law teaches my son how to brand. We have a squeeze chute, but this calf slipped under the fence just before her turn. It was easier to catch her in the corral and brand her than feed her back through the corrals and squeeze chute again.
ME: Tell us how you came up with the idea for your debut novel, THE GUY NEXT DOOR, and what was your writing process?
KATE: My Great-Grandfather died from the effects of being a coal miner. He left behind a wife and thirteen children. The banker wanted to marry my Great-Grandmother, but didn’t want her children. She used to sit up nights on the front porch with the shotgun to keep him away. I could never understand how that banker could think my grandmother would leave her children and how she could love him if he didn’t love her children. I wanted to take that story of a man loving a woman, but not her children and make it a modern story.
I had read that I needed to combine two different story ideas to make an effective novel. So I began thinking what else I could write about. Then I remembered an especially vivid dream I’d had in college. In the dream, I was being chased through the woods holding a baby that wasn’t really mine.
Okay, that wasn’t really so much of a different idea. It was more along the lines of the first idea so I kept thinking. My husband runs the local cable channel. One October morning he got a call from the local police about a marijuana farm that had been found in the mountains above Ephraim. He went with the police and filmed the DEA agents (feet only to protect their identity) going through the site. It was unusual for two reasons. First marijuana doesn’t usually grow at that high of an elevation. Secondly, an irrigation system had been rigged up with black tubing to take water from Ephraim city’s irrigation water.
That’s the kind of second idea I needed. I put those three things together, came up with three disasters and an ending and began writing.
ME: It appears to be a mix of thriller and romance. Which genre do you lean more toward and why?
KATE: I describe my work as romance with a dash of suspense. I’m always drawn to the romance in a story—it’s what keeps me coming back.
ME: What are you working on now, and how would you describe your writing space? (I must have a photo of said space, whether it’s an office, the barn, or a simple recliner.)
KATE: I’m working on a children’s chapter book (editing it now), a children’s picture book series (Seasons on the Farm), and another romantic suspense. The romantic suspense is a contemporary western and is really fun to write. (I’ll look forward to it.)
When we built our house, my husband was working from home so we planned an office for him. He no longer works from home, and I am very fortunate to have that office as my writing space. (Yay!) It has the all-important door that can be closed. Actually, when I wrote THE GUY NEXT DOOR, I wrote it at the desk in our dining room so I really appreciate the office I have now. I recently started homeschooling one of my children so the office is really a mess right now while I figure out where to house everything.
And next week I’ll be talking with Alysia Ricks, author of Sweet Romantic Suspense, YA, and Adventure, who writes under the pen name Alysia S. Knight.