Kindle Author Interview: Kathryn Shay

Kathryn Shay, author of The Betrayal, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Betrayal?

KATHRYN SHAY: The Betrayal is my first, brand new full length novel up on Amazon this month. For a limited time only, it’s priced at $.99. Here’s the storyline: Darcy Weston flees to her grandparents’ abandoned farm after her stepfather rapes her. There, she meets Jordan Mackenzie, a local boy, and the friendship of a lifetime begins. Jordan helps sustain Darcy with food and water, and his company, for months, but eventually her whereabouts are discovered. In subsequent years, the two young people try to stay in touch from their disparate worlds, but eventually they drift apart.

Flash forward twelve years. Jordan is an accomplished teacher and Darcy, an internationally famous, reclusive artist. They meet again when Jordan publishes a book that reveals secrets about Darcy's past. But they find themselves thrown together first over the scandal his book creates, then over a murder. Once again, they turn to each other for help and comfort as they deal with police investigations, a variety of suspects from each other's worlds, and a passion between them which won't be denied.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

KATHRYN SHAY: Mostly, I decide I want to do a story about something (school violence, firefighters, a hero/heroine who met as kids) and then create characters who would populate that book I figure out the age, gender, personality traits and relationships he or she valued. I try to make sure the characters are all not married, all not single, etc. I try to vary their eye color, hair length, build. I think about how they’d talk: would they speak correct English, clip endings, swear? Would they use terms of endearment?

In The Betrayal, the hero and heroine meet as kids, she’s from New York City and he’s from a small rural area in upstate New York. She’s a bit older. So her speech patterns are different, she uses the f-word and he says things like, “Holy cow.” As they grow older she maintains the sophistication but he still talks in a more innocent way. Also, I make sure all characters dress according to their background and taste. I try to have clothing mirror their personalities. One of the hardest things to do is differentiate introspection, when you’re in the characters’ heads. Their thoughts have to reflect how they speak. For example, a twelve year old would not use the term bathe in thinking about taking a bath. And then there’s the whole ball game of how men and women speak/think differently.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

KATHRYN SHAY: People who like emotional, gritty stories, who want an author who takes risks, who’s looking for a deep, meaningful read. I’ve always written cutting edge situations, not in danger or suspense, but in the topics I choose and how I present them. My last print book was The Perfect Family and it’s a redeeming story of a young boy’s coming out, but it’s got a lot of tough stuff in it. The Catholic Church is repudiated for its stance on homosexuality. I’ve written about teen suicide, domestic abuse, date rape, adultery (and how it can be forgiven), and even a book where the hero slept with the heroine’s mother in the distant past. On a lighter note, in The Betrayal, I have an artist and I describe the art she does, its meaning and how her style evolves as she does. I use this to show her personality. I think that’s a bit different. There are also substantive issues in the book like sexual abuse and New York City gangs. So I want readers who want to read this kind of material to buy my books. I hate for a book not to meet a reader’s expectation.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

KATHRYN SHAY: I started writing when I was in middle school. I wrote plays and the neighborhood kids would perform them. Then when I was fifteen, I wrote a short story about a woman who went to New York City and got a job on a newspaper. She and the male editor butted heads over the place of women reporters in real news. Of course, they fell in love. I should have known I’d start out with romance novels.

In college, my mother insisted I take education courses to fall back on, but I also took every writing class available. I fully intended to pursue a writing career until I stepped in front of a class in my practice teaching and fell in love with the profession. I went on to teach, but kept writing short stories, essays and poetry.

I had a happy life with a great job, kids who were six and nine, a terrific husband, church commitments and a lot of friends. But I wanted to try my hand at a longer work. So I wrote, Images, a story about a hero who’s undercover and the woman he betrays. I received, oh, at least twenty rejections from publishing houses and agents—some of them twice because I rewrote the book several times—and it never did sell. (Thankfully, because it really had a lot of flaws.)

As working writers advise you to do, I began my second novel right away. This one was about a suicidal teenager, her father and the school counselor who’s determined to help them both. I knew a lot more about that subject, as I was a teacher and had my share of dealing with kids in trouble. As I sent out this one, (while I wrote another!) and received more rejections on the second, I began to get discouraged. I thought, “What am I doing? I had a near-perfect life and now I’m miserable trying to break into publishing.” My critique partners encouraged me to hang in there, my husband told me I’d never get published if I didn’t keep at it and so I persevered.

Finally, an editor at Harlequin Superromance pulled my book out of the slush pile and it became The Father Factor, my first published novel. It ended up with about a million copies printed. (Yes, you read that right!) It’s been reissued, translated into several languages and remains some people’s favorite book of mine. (I’m about to re-release on Kindle very soon.) After that, I wrote twenty-five books for Harlequin.

By 1999, I was ready to take on another press so I could write longer, grittier works, with more flawed characters. It took 18 months to sell a single title romance to Berkley, but I did get an agent. Again, the first book I wrote for this market never sold. But eventually, I did get a contract and my first Berkley came out in 2002—ironically, Promises to Keep, another school story. I wrote eleven novels for them.

But I wasn’t finished yet. When my son came out gay, I decided I wanted to write a mainstream fiction about the effect of the coming out process on families. I started this book in 2004 and it took me five years to write, in between all my Harlequin and Berkley contracts. Then, happily, The Perfect Family sold in 2009 to Bold Strokes Books, was published in 2010 and is now available. This is the book of my heart, and I’m thrilled it will have an audience.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

KATHRYN SHAY: Wow, that’s so hard to answer. For The Betrayal, I wrote totally by “the seat of my pants” instead of plotting out the entire storyline. All I knew was I wanted to start the book when the hero and heroine were in their teens and then go forward several years when they come together as adults. I had no idea it would be a suspense novel, no idea what the professions of the characters would be, no idea who would populate the book. I simply started to write. As each sentence unfolded, so did the plot. Suddenly, Darcy was a runaway and Jordan was a small town boy. She took the bus to upstate New York, where they met at her grandparents’ farm. And so each line, each paragraph, each page went. When asked by non writers how I write a book, I always say “one scene at a time.” This was never more accurate than in The Betrayal. Of course, I didn’t even know it would be called that because I didn’t know a betrayal or two were going to occur. I didn’t foresee a murder. And best of all, I didn’t know who the killer was until the very last part of the book, hoping that if I didn’t guess who-done-it, the reader wouldn’t either.

Now, there are drawbacks to writing this way. Originally I didn’t have any of Jordan’s Journals written out in the chapters. But since they became a focus in later chapters, I had to go back and put them in. I also discovered there were going to be vital new characters in the last third of the book, and so I had to work them in earlier. And as always, once I really knew the characters, I went to page one and began adding and adjusting personality traits. It was a wild ride, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and feared as the book unfolded. Would I really be able to write this way? Most of my other books had synopses to work from. For some of them, I had a spiral notebook where I plotted scene by scene before I wrote each one. Also, I wondered if the story would come out a jumbled mess, because all I did for the first 150 pages was write one scene a day without looking back at the previous ones. It was a mess, but I revised and revised and revised some more. And you know what? This book didn’t take me any longer to write than my other novels.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

KATHRYN SHAY: Nora Roberts, not just for volume of work she puts out, but also for her unique plots, humor and great love stories. John Irving because he’s funny and poignant at the same time and because his work is always a bit quirky. Judith Guest because Ordinary People is so emotional. And Margaret Atwood for being able to conceive of The Handmaid's Tale.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

KATHRYN SHAY: Any of Nora’s Death series, and the two mentioned above.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

KATHRYN SHAY: I keep trying to find ways to do this. In the past, I’ve done ads in magazines, a print newsletter, flyers, bookmarks, post cards and brochures on my work. With the Internet, everything changed, and now I don’t do any paper advertising, except some bookmarks once in a while. Since the digital world became so popular, I’ve done Virtual book tours where the writer visits various websites (I went to thirty sites for The Perfect Family) where you post blogs and do interviews like this one. The site managers also write reviews. I’m hoping to do and ebook tour for The Betrayal. And, of course, I have a website, www.kathrynshay.com; a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/kathrynshay; and a Twitter account, http://twitter.com/KShayAuthor. I take out Kindle ads, banners, and sponsorships, I’m trying to get noticed on the Kindle Boards. And my books have been on Daily Cheap Reads. If you have ideas of what more I can do, please let me know.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

KATHRYN SHAY: 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. It was the book of my heart and I want to continue to write women’s fiction like this. I’m trying to decide what kind of story I want to write next. And I’m thinking about getting another agent.

Meanwhile, I decided to put up my backlist on Kindle simply for the money. Then, I liked the independence of it all and decided to try writing some new books. I did a series of novellas online to see if new work would fly, and so far they’ve been my best sellers. I’m hoping The Betrayal, which is also brand new, will follow suit. So far, it’s doing great.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

KATHRYN SHAY: What most new authors don’t seem to know is if they put a book up self-pubbed, they can still sell it to print publishers or get a print publisher. So what do they have to lose? I think it might take more time for a person who was not previously published to make a name for herself, but then again, look at Amanda Hocking

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer and teacher. She has published 41 novels from the Berkley Publishing Group, Harlequin Enterprises, Bold Strokes Books and has several online works featured. She has won five RT Book Reviews awards, four Golden Quills, four Holt Medallions, the Bookseller’s Best Award and several “Starred Reviews.” Her work has been serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine and featured in The Wall Street Journal and People magazine. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and children.

Visit her website, find her on facebook, and follow her on twitter.

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