TNA: Hi, Cate, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies, interests, odds and ends things that make you, you.
CA: Thank you so much! I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here, so thank you for having me!
Like most authors (I think), most of my hobbies revolve around books. When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading, not only published stories, but I actually really like beta reading for people. Being a part of other people’s creative processes and getting sneak peeks into the stories before they’re perfectly polished makes me happy.
TNA: What was your first published M/M title? Do you remember the precise moment you came up with the story idea and knew you wouldn’t rest until it was told?
CA: Keeping Sweets was my first novel. There wasn’t exactly a precise moment, more that the story kind of built slowly in my mind, and then when I went to write it, the words just kind of fell onto the page. It started with a line from a song, something I heard on the radio, and that kind of morphed into a scene that didn’t actually end up in the book, and the rest was built around it. All in all, it worked out pretty well!
TNA: If you could go back in time, to the moment you sat down and began writing that first story, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
CA: To enjoy the process. When I wrote Keeping Sweets, it was really the first thing I had ever really written. I knew absolutely nothing about writing or publishing. I knew I loved books and I knew what I liked to read and the types of stories I wanted to write, and that was the extent of it.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing as much now that I’ve learned more about the process, but I feel like now that I know about editing and reviews, I’m more critical of my writing (which might not be a bad thing!).
TNA: Let’s chat a little bit about your new book, Brokenhearted. Will you tell us about it and how you came up with the idea for the story?
CA: Brokenhearted is the story of Oliver, a chef from Seattle who had been on his own his whole life. He comes home from work one day to find Mack on his doorstep. Mack is the sheriff of Hope Cove, a small coastal town in Maine, and he’s flown across the country to tell Oliver that his sister had died. Oliver didn’t know he had a sister, and so returns to Maine with Mack to try to get to know who she was.
I actually wrote the first 500 words or so of Brokenhearted before I wrote Keeping Sweets. Oliver began as a woman and there was no Mack. I wanted to write a story about sisters, but the more I thought about it, the more that the main character just felt wrong. I scrapped 499 of those first 500 words and started over. I knew the feeling I wanted to create with the story but not really the full plot. Once I’d figured out the characters, everything else came together.
TNA: What’s the one thing you hope readers will take away from the book?
CA: Is it too cheesy to say happiness?
I write (and read) for pleasure. I like my stories to have a nice balance of fluff and angst, and always with a HEA. When I find a story like that, it’s nice to escape my life for a few hours, to feel that lightness when the characters find each other, and the satisfaction at the end when you know they’re going to be together forever. I hope that people feel the same way about my stories.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Brokenhearted with us?
CA: Sure! This scene is from the beginning of the story when Mack is telling Oliver about his sister.
Mack took a deep cleansing breath in, letting it out slowly. “In 1984, a woman checked herself into Maine Coast Memorial Hospital. A few hours later, a baby girl was born. The baby was in rough shape, addicted to opiates, and after delivery, the mother refused to see the child. A few hours later, the little girl was all alone in the world, and going through bad withdrawal.
“There was a nurse named Amelia who was working the surgical floor that day. She happened to walk past the NICU on her way to lunch and heard the perinatal nurses talking about the baby. One look, and it was love at first sight. Family services were called and after piles and piles of paperwork, Maggie had a new mom and Amelia had a family.” Mack paused to guzzle back the rest of his juice.
“That’s a lovely story,” Oliver said, his voice tinged with disparagement, “but I don’t really see what that has to do with me.”
“You told me to start at the beginning. This is the beginning. Sorry, but I want to get this right, and it’s kind of a long story.”
Despite his confusion and uncertainty over the strange turn his Sunday afternoon had taken, Oliver urged Mack on.
“Far as we can tell, the woman took off and ended up following some deadbeat guy across the country, where a few years later, a new story began to unfold in the same way. She was admitted to Women’s and Children’s in Seattle where she gave birth to a baby boy. Now, there are some bits missing from this part of the story, almost twenty-five years of missing parts, but what I am sure of, is that you were that baby boy.”
Oliver felt like someone had dropped an anchor on his gut. His mouth became dry and his eyes widened. He didn’t know whether to jump up and dance at the idea that he had a sister, or fucking pass out because this was a lot to digest all at once. He had a million questions and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answers to any of them.
His life had just started to fall into place. After years and years—his whole life really—of struggling just to keep going, there was finally a spark of hope that he might be okay. All he wanted was a restaurant to run, a hot guy to pick up every once in a while to scratch the itch, and for everyone else to leave him the fuck alone.
Mack stared at him with whiskey-colored eyes, waiting for a reaction. Time stretched out between them, making the silence awkward.
“That’s it?” Okay, so not the most brilliant response, but at least he had forced more than one word out of his mouth. Two words. Two words that went together, even.
“Unfortunately, no,” Mack replied, face crumpling a little. Those cathartic breaths were back, bolstering him for the next chapter of the story.
“The woman was young when she had her babies. Only twenty-two when you were born. Less than a year later, she was dead. I’m sorry Oliver.”
Oliver hardened, fists clenching lightly at his sides, hidden beneath the table. “Don’t be. Never knew her. Never wanted to. Some people just aren’t meant to be parents. Can’t say I’m really surprised that she died. Drugs will do that to you.”
Mack nodded curtly. “There’s more. Maggie grew up a happy kid, Amelia loved her more than anything, and Maggie thought Amelia hung the moon. They were everything to one another because it was always just the two of them. They lived in a small fishing town on the coast of Maine. Small. The kind of place where everyone knows everything about everyone else whether you want them to or not. She had a normal life, did all the normal kid things, grew up into a beautiful, talented, wonderful person. You look a little like her… I mean, not like a girl… but you can tell there are some similarities there. God, the most beautiful fucking grey eyes.”
Mack looked down at his hands, voice wavering slightly. Oliver just waited for him to go on. There wasn’t much to say, really.
“When she got a little older, she started to get curious about her birth mother. Typical adopted kid stuff, I think. Amelia was always really open with her about the circumstances of her birth, but for her own curiosity she wanted to know, you know? We looked for years, and then when I became a cop, it opened a few new avenues for us to search. Eventually we found out about your mother, and then you. She was so fucking excited to find out she had a brother.”
Mack chuckled, the deep rich sound winding around Oliver, pulling him further into it, making him feel like the story was about someone else, someone worth getting excited about finding.
“She jumped up onto her bed, almost cracked her fucking skull open she jumped so high. She said she had the perfect life: the best mom, best friend, best town, and now the best brother. She really did love her life. She only ever left Maine once, to go to school, but as soon as she could, she was back and there to stay. Opened a bakery on Main Street and there were barely enough hours in the day for her to keep up with the demand. She loved every minute of it though, wasn’t happier anywhere than in her kitchen.”
Mack got quiet then, letting the information sink in, letting Oliver feel it. He could feel the stillness in the room, the heaviness hanging over Mack, pulling him, tugging him down. He was afraid of the next question, but he couldn’t stop the words from tumbling from him, “Why isn’t she here with you, telling me all this herself?”
Mack looked up at him, eyes boring into his, tears threatening to swell over. “She died Oliver. I’m so fucking sorry. For the longest time, all she ever talked about was finding you. She wanted to know you so fucking bad. She would have been here, right here next to me, telling you all this, hugging you and making you laugh, but instead all you’ve got is me, sitting here fucking up a story I’m not even sure you want to hear.”
Oliver steeled himself against the emotions creeping in around the edges. He was good at this. Almost professional. But even with all his years of practice, his voice sounded thin and tinny to his ears. “How? How did she die?”
“She drowned. Maggie swam every morning. We live on the coast, where the cove shelters the beach. The water’s pretty calm most days and Maggie liked to swim in the ocean. We’re not really sure how it happened….”
Oliver nodded. “So why come at all? Why fly across the whole continent to tell me all this?”
“I am so fucking bad at this, Oliver, but it was all she wanted, you know? Wanted her brother. Her family. She was my best friend. Has been since the fourth grade when she stepped in and saved my ass from getting girl cooties from Samantha Jensen. She was my best friend and I loved her. I would do anything for her and she would have wanted this.”
Mack stood, crossing the room to where he had deposited his jacket on the floor. He reached into the pocket, pulling out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Oliver. “This is yours. It’s open ended, so you can use it any time. If you want.”
Oliver took the paper, opened it and read it over carefully. “A plane ticket?” “Yeah, to Maine. Mags didn’t have a will. She didn’t think to have one drawn up, but you’re her family. Everything she had is yours: the bakery, the apartment, everything.
“What if I don’t want it?” Oliver asked. He didn’t mean to sound insulting, although that’s the way it came out. This had been a weird afternoon. It was a lot to process. He was still reeling.
“Well, that’s your decision. No one would blame you if this is all too much for you. I’ve dumped a lot on you. I’m going to go, let you process all this, but I’ve written my cell number on the back of the ticket. I’m flying back tomorrow. You are more than welcome to come with me if you want, or you can call me later, or you can never speak to me again. Like I said, this is your choice to make and I will not think badly of you if you just want to forget this day ever happened.”
Oliver nodded, not trusting himself to say anything. He followed Mack to the door, letting it close with a soft thunk behind him.
TNA: Did either of the main characters give you fits as you were writing, not wanting to cooperate with where you saw their story going? If so, which one?
CA: They all did! There were several times that I wrote myself into a corner with this one, and it just wasn’t working until I stopped thinking about it, and just wrote the story the way the characters wanted it. It flowed a lot better afterwards.
TNA: This is the first book in a series: do you have an idea how many total books there’ll be, or are they not all plotted out yet?
CA: Brokenhearted is the first of three books. Wholehearted is Book 2 and is due out December 9th. Ironhearted is Book 3 and will be released January 6th.
TNA: Will the sequels carry on with the same main characters, or will each book feature new MCs?
CA: Wholehearted is Declan’s story and Ironhearted is Haydn’s story. But almost all the characters make appearances in all of the books. I liked being able to revisit my earlier characters, and also seeing how their lives have progressed since the end of their books was so much fun.
TNA: I know this is sort of like asking you to name your favorite child, but of all the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite? If so, which and why?
CA: Yeah, that’s a really unfair question!
I would say that I think it’s a tossup between Brokenhearted and Ironhearted. I love all the characters in the series, but Oliver and Haydn just kind of get to me.
TNA: If you could bring one of your characters to life, who would you choose and why? What makes him or her someone you think would make an impression (good or bad) upon the world?
CA: Honestly, I think Haydn. He’s so spunky and so vulnerable at the same time. I really love him. He’s a secondary character in Brokenhearted, but he gets his own story in Book 3.
TNA: What would you say are the best and worst parts of the writing process for you?
CA: All of it? Is that a cop-out?
It’s true, though. There are days that the words just flow onto the page and everything clicks effortlessly into place, and there are other days where every word painful to write, and I just know I’ll end up re-writing later, but for me it’s important to try to get the words down on the page.
The publishing aspect of it is incredibly exciting and trying all at the same time. The thrill of receiving the cover spec sheet is quickly eclipsed by the fact that I actually have no idea what my story is about. Things like that. All in all, writing can be difficult, but it’s still one of my favourite things.
TNA: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Whichever you are, why do you feel that method works best for you?
CA: Definitely a pantser when I can be. I have tried to plot out my stories, but the final story ends up so far from where I had originally intended it to go, that it doesn’t seem worth plotting it out ahead of time.
Skylar M. Cates and I wrote a novella that comes out sometime this spring, and we learned very early in the process that when you’re working with someone else, you need to plot the whole story in extreme detail or you’ll run into problems.
TNA: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
CA: Time bending (is that a thing?). If I could somehow create more hours in the day, that would be pretty awesome.
TNA: If time travel were possible, where would you go and why?
CA: I think I would like to go back and kind of glimpse at the everyday lives of people in history. Not necessarily famous people, but interesting people from the past. One of my favourite books of all time ever is A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. What I loved most about this book was the anecdotes and side notes.
For example, Jack and J.B.S. Haldane, who studied the toxic effects of carbon monoxide on the body by seeing how much of it they could inhale before they passed out.
Or Mary Anning who discovered one of the dinosaurs at the age of 11 when she was digging for fossils on the banks of the English Channel. (She’s also the girl behind the famous she sells seashells rhyme).
I find that stuff so interesting.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs?
CA: I have way too many things on my WIP list right now, but I am too attached to the stories to shelve any of them.
I am in the process of writing a five book series that focuses on emergency services: cops, paramedics, emergency room nurses and social workers.
For NaNo this year, I’m writing a story about a dancer from a small town who graduates and moves to a larger city to join a dance company where he meets a pole dancer who helps him discover who he truly is.
I’m also doing a couple of collaborations with some other authors that I am really excited about.
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Cate, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you!
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