Kathie Truitt may have been living in the Washington, D.C. area for the past 11 years, but she has never cut the ties that connect her to her hometown of El Dorado Springs, Missouri. And with her latest novel, The Hillbilly Debutante Café (Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC), she has strengthened that connection since she set the book in the same small Ozark town where she grew up and first put a pen to paper.
Her first book, False Victim, was inspired by a stalking experience she and her family suffered after they moved to Washington, and further illustrates the relationship between her life and her writing. (For more information, visit her website at Hillbilly Debutante.)
Tell us a little about yourself. What type of writing do you do? If you do more than one kind, what type is your favorite?
My name is Kathie Truitt aka Hillbilly Debutante. I’ve been called that since I moved from the Ozarks to the Washington DC area 11 years ago. I don’t quite recall all the details but it was at a formal event and a man admired my dress. We got to talking and he made a comment on my “slight accent” and asked where I was from. He called me a “hillbilly debutante” and the name just stuck and when I started my blog, it was the obvious choice for a name.
Blogging is my favorite style of writing. It’s totally free and completely liberating. It’s all mine. No editor, no publisher – just me and my readers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being a novelist too, but it’s hard to sit still for long periods of time.
How long have you been writing? When did you start? What was your “writer dream”—your goal— when you began to write? Has it changed over the years? What is your “writer dream” now?
I’ve been writing since I was capable of putting together legible sentences. My grandmother, knowing that I liked to practice my penmanship, would keep me stocked with pencils and Big Chief tablets and have me write stories for her. She kept every single one.
My dream has always been to write a book and since I’m in the outline stage of my third novel, and I have a blog with several hundred readers per day, it’s safe to say I’m living that dream!
When did you first know that you were a writer?
6th grade! My teacher would openly brag about my creative writing assignments and even had me produce one of my stories into a play and produce it for the class.
Who are three of your favorite authors and why?
Rita Mae Brown is an awesome novelist. Her ‘Sneaky Pie Brown’ series had me mapquesting how far Crozet, Virginia (where the stories take place) was from my Northern Virginia home. I actually got in the car that very day and drove there.
I love Fannie Flagg because she is such a wonderful storyteller. Her writing style makes me feel like I have a personal relationship with each character. I’m always so sad when I get to the end because I never want the story to be over.
And last but not least, I have to say Civil War novelist Nancy Dane. While her books are fictionalized accounts of the War Between the States, it’s obvious she does tons of research to add a lot of factual events to build the plot around. I always learn something new and she is such a breath of fresh air from the cliché romantic, plantation, southern-belle-hooped skirt Civil War novels. Plus, she’s a good friend and she always gives the best advice.
On average, how much time do you spend writing a day? Do you have a schedule that you keep?
Writing is a full-time career for me. While I think I do my best and most creative work at night, I really don’t have what could be called a “set schedule”. What I do is keep my computer on all day and leave it set up on my kitchen counter so I can write in between phone calls and meetings. If I was to add it up, I probably write about three hours a day. Just not three straight hours.
Your blog is called “Hillbilly Debutante: Musings of a Country Girl Stuck in the City.” Is that how you see yourself — still just an Ozark girl?
Absolutely! While I think I’ve adjusted very nicely to city life, I can’t tell you how much I miss riding horses, listening to the crickets and whippoorwills at night and running in wide, open spaces.
Where do you do most of your writing?
In the family den in my red/beige chair surrounded my family! Yes, I can write in the middle of all that chaos. As a matter-of-fact, I wrote three-fourths of The Hillbilly Debutante Café during NFL season.
What stimulates your creativity or serves as a writing inspiration? Conversely, what creates a major writer’s block for you?
I seem to get my best ideas during my evening walks. I’ve been known to use my cell to call home and leave ideas on my answering machine so I won’t forget them. And what creates major writer’s block for me? Easy! Editing! I have been known to cry myself to sleep during editing!
Do you have any writing totems? Superstitions? Routines? Things you do or have to have around you when you begin your writing process?
Nope. All I need is my laptop and a Diet Coke and I’m good to go.
Do you keep a journal?
I tried to keep a diary for about a month and I gave it up. Everything I’d write sounded so corny and so I ended up throwing it away after a while.
When your life gets too hectic, what do you do and where do you go for some quiet country time to recharge your writing batteries?
I really don’t get to do that as often as I like, so I just do what I think is the next best thing – hop on my pink and white vintage bike and ride through my neighborhood and enjoy the breeze blowing through my hair.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Was it easier or harder than you expected?
It took a little over a year to write my first book and it was excruciatingly painful. False Victim was based on the true story of what happened to me and my family when we first moved to the Washington D.C. area. Some days I would sit down at the computer at 7:30 am and not get up ‘til one the next morning and only have written a sentence. It was terrible.
Did you have an agent at the time? If so, how long did it take you to find one? How many agents and publishers did you approach? If you self-published, what were some of the challenges of going that route?
I had sent my manuscript to a retired agent and she liked it but at the same time I was also talking with several authors that had used an agent and had big publishers and I knew this wasn’t the route for me. But on the other hand, I knew that I didn’t want to self-publish either. So I did more research and found a publisher that would accept manuscripts without having an agent and sent it off. Weeks later they offered me a contract and I signed with them. They also provided a publicist. They’ve been wonderful to me and I’ve never looked back and can’t imagine ever parting ways with them.
You’ve been through some challenging times, losing your home and career, that formed the basis for your first novel, False Victim. Can you share a little about your own story and why you chose to write about it novel form?
I was the victim of what’s labeled a “false victimization” stalker. It’s incredibly hard to explain so the best thing to do is to google the term and see for yourself. This went on for four years until finally the police, an investigator and a magistrate judge told us we needed to leave the county for our safety. They couldn’t do anything to protect us until this woman harmed me and they had no doubt that she would indeed harm me. While the book has done very well and received rave reviews I’ve received some criticism for not writing it as a “true crime” story. But honestly, I have found unless you are someone famous or your story has made national headlines no one really wants to read your story. That’s why I decided to write as a novel.
What sparked the idea for your second novel, The Hillbilly Debutante Café?
I have spent years entertaining folks at parties with stories about my hometown – El Dorado Springs, Missouri. There are just so many unique and fun characters. One day a friend of mine, Tracy, with tears streaming down her cheeks from laughing so hard, said, “Kathie, you have got to write a book about this.’
Was the writing and publishing process different this time compared to the first? If so, in what way?
Oh, it was so much easier this time. After False Victim, I had proved to my publisher that I could sell books so they were eager to work with me on The Hillbilly Debutante Café. And of course the writing process with this book was a blast – I couldn’t wait to work on it every day.
Looking back, do you think you would have become a novelist if you hadn’t had the opportunity for a “second act”?
No. As much as I hate to admit that I wouldn’t have even attempted it. People would ask if I would write a book and I’d shrug nonchalantly and say, “Nope – ain’t happenin’ – I don’t have a plot.” So, I guess I’d have to say that in that respect moving next door to a psycho-stalker neighbor lady that worked relentlessly to take my child and send me to prison on false charges definitely in the long run ended up working in my favor. Who’d a thought?
You came up with a unique way to promote The Hillbilly Debutante Café—an Antique & Book Festival and a Hillbilly Debutante ball. How successful was this strategy?
It wasn’t bad actually. It was the first of what we hope will be yearly events and sometimes folks are leery of new things, but all in all I was happy with the turnout. It was a fun time and I think attendance, while it was good, will grow each year.
What other marketing strategies have you used to promote your books?
With False Victim I did the traditional book store signings and I’d try to visit at least one book club of every city I travelled to, but with The Hillbilly Debutante Café I’m doing things quite a bit different. I’m doing more “niche” events instead of book stores. I’m doing barn/antique sales, variety stores, feed/tack stores, cafes, fairs and festivals and charity events. I love to give back, so when I do these events I always share 40% of my profits. I also do a lot of speaking engagements, promote through my blog and other social media such as facebook and Twitter.
Are there aspects of the publishing business that you have found particularly challenging or difficult? Conversely, have there been aspects or experiences that surprised or touched you or that you thoroughly enjoyed?
The only aspect of publishing that I really and truly do not enjoy is editing. As I said earlier I have been known to cry myself to sleep at night during the editing phase. It’s really stressful for me.
Any interesting stories from book signing events?
No, they’re usually uneventful although I did kickoff my book tour with ‘False Victim’ in the town that it happened in so I had a security detail that day.
Based on your own experience, what tips do you have for authors who are preparing for their “maiden voyage” on the sea of publication?
Do your research! And then do it again before you make a decision on an agent, publisher or publicist. Also set aside a budget for travel expenses and other marketing because I don’t care how big or wonderful your publisher is, the bulk responsibility of marketing your work will be up to you.
What is the next project you have in the works?
I just had an article accepted for publication in “Inspire Me Today” – it will come out in the June issue, and I am writing the second book in ‘The Hillbilly Debutante Café’ series.
How do you define success as a writer?
My own personal definition of success as a writer, is being published, and having several hundred readers to my blog per day.
What do you find the hardest part about the “writing business”?
Handling the “business” aspect such as meetings with my publicists, writing creative, interesting articles for my blog, travelling with appearances and amidst all of this, still trying time to write books.
What’s the worst advice anyone gave you about being a writer? What’s the best?
I don’t remember anyone ever giving me bad advice, but on the other hand I don’t necessarily remember any good advice either. The fact is life as I knew it was over after the events that led me to write False Victim. As embarrassing as it is to say this, and although it was undeserved, I had an arrest record and it was next to impossible to explain what I had been through. I had to find a new way to make a living and speaking and writing were the only two things I knew how to do. I had to write and I had to be successful at it. I had no other choice.
What advice do you have for other writers who are contemplating pursuing a writing career?
Do it because it’s your absolute passion. With over 400,000 books published yearly, you have to come up with something that sets you apart. Be persistent, thick-skinned and be willing to take constructive criticism.
What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
“I Told You I Was Sick”….oh, wait a sec…I guess that doesn’t have anything to do with writing. How about “Editing Complete”? Have I mentioned how much I hate editing?
My thanks to Kathie for being part of One on One: Insights Into the Writer’s Life