We love any opportunity to get to know our favorite authors better. So a lightning round of questions sounds like a good place to start. Here, we ask five quick questions (with one wildcard) about books, genres, reading preferences, writing style, and their secret to success.
We were lucky enough to have Kate White take a moment to answer a few questions for us. Year after year, she publishes a new thriller, always keeping us on the edge of our seats. Most recently she published The Fiancee, and is delivering her upcoming novel The Second Husband in June.
1. What are your all-time favorite books?
I’ve read so many terrific books that it’s hard to narrow them down to a list of favorites (I hate hurting a book’s feelings!), so maybe what I’ll do instead is mention some books that have stayed with me for years since I’ve read them. It’s almost as if they’ve haunted me a little, perhaps because I could feel the main character’s longing so completely, or the ending stunned me, or else I wasn’t totally sure what the ending meant.
Those books include (in no special order): Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Brontë; Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse; The Magus by John Fowles; The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes; Carry the One by Carol Anshaw; A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley; Middle Passage by Charles Johnson; Atonement by Ian McEwan; Damage by Josephine Hart; Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday; and The Dead, a novella by James Joyce included in the Dubliners (this is one I even reread every few years).
I suspect some of these books haunt me because of where I was in my life when I read them, but it doesn’t matter. I just like being haunted by them!
As for mysteries and thrillers, I’ve read a zillion. Several all-time favorites: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell; The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood, and, most recently, The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
The above are all novels, aren’t they? But I enjoy non-fiction, too. Some fairly recent favorites in that category include: In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt; Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer; Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson; and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.
Okay, I’ll stop. I’ve gone on far too long, but what can I say? I love reading books.
2. What’s your favorite genre to read?
As a thriller and mystery author, I of course love reading thrillers and mysteries. But I’m also crazy about literary fiction, especially — and this will come as no surprise — a story with some kind of mystery at the center. Katie Kitamura’s recent book, Intimacies, is one example. So are The Sense of an Ending and While I Was Gone, two of the books I mentioned above.
I know this might sound a little strange, but I also read a lot of plays. When I was young, I dreamed at times of being a playwright, and though I haven’t accomplished that goal (yet!), I love studying plays, and I’ve also found that reading them helps me sharpen my skills writing dialogue.
3. Which do you prefer: ebook or audiobook?
eBooks. Because I live in New York City a good part of the year, I rarely drive (“Taxi!”), so I don’t have blocks of time in my schedule suited for listening to audiobooks (when I exercise, I like to do online courses). But I’m thrilled that so many of my readers like listening to my books, and I really appreciate it when they write to compliment the actress who did the narration.
As for eBooks, I couldn’t live without them. Don’t get me wrong, I still sometimes love having a print book in my hands, but mostly I read on my iPad. My husband and I live in Uruguay in the winter and my tablet has saved me from having to lug a ton of books to South America each year!
4. What’s your writing routine or process?
John Grisham once said in an interview that he thought writing every day was essential for authors, and I really believe that too, so I write every single day, even on weekends. It helps me maintain a rhythm, and since I enjoy writing, it’s never a burden. I usually write for about four hours each morning, starting at 8:30, and I then try to spend an hour in the afternoon — after a break for lunch — editing what I wrote. If I’m on vacation, I still write each day but maybe for only an hour, mostly to stay in the groove.
(Hint: If you dream of being a writer, but tend to procrastinate, here’s a time management trick that worked for me early on: Don’t make yourself write any longer than you can tolerate. In the beginning, I wrote for only 15 minutes a day.)
I use the rest of each workday to deal with social media, publicity, and the business side of being an author, which is almost a full-time job in itself these days. I have no real interest in putting myself out there on social media, but it’s fantastic to be able to interact with readers that way, especially on Facebook and Instagram. I’m so appreciative of anyone who checks in with me on one of those platforms.
A challenge I sometimes have as a full-time author is keeping my butt in the chair during writing hours. As passionate as I am about creating, it can be hard, and I’m guilty at times of letting myself be distracted. But I’ve gotten better at not letting that happen since reading a terrific book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. It offers excellent tricks for building your concentration skills. I highly recommend it no matter what you do in life — and, interestingly, I first heard about it from another suspense author, J.T. Ellison.
5. How much of your writing success is due to hard work, talent, or luck?
Well, I suppose luck factors into everything in life, right? Because I was very successful in the magazine world, it wasn’t hard for me to convince a literary agent to take a look at my first book idea. That was lucky.
But having an agent read a proposal only gets you so far. Agents are looking for books they feel they can sell. What matters is the book idea, and then actually writing it. I’ve trained myself to be diligent and write every day, and I never succumb to any kind of writer’s block. That’s something I learned to be good at while working in magazines. You have very strict deadlines in that world, and if the muse isn’t with you on a given day, you still have to write something, and then you try to make it better over the next few days.
That strategy has served me very well in writing fiction. On tough days I just get something on my laptop and then edit the heck out of it in a day or two when my brain is behaving better. One thing I also learned in magazines is that when you’re stuck, it sometimes means you simply don’t have enough information. When that happens to me with fiction, I know I probably have to do more research or think more deeply about a character and his or her motivations.
Wildcard: If you could have coffee/tea with anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why?
It sounds so corny, but I’d have to say William Shakespeare. Though I was always fascinated by him, I became even more so after reading Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. I didn’t realize until then how many unanswered questions there are about Shakespeare, how little we know about him. It would be so incredible to have the chance to get answers from him, and I’d promise to share what he told me with the rest of the world.
About the Author: Sarah Sung
Sarah is the Editorial Director at Scribd who obsesses over content strategy and brand building, and has written lifestyle content for AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, and Under Armour. In her spare time she teaches indoor cycling and consumes podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks at all times of the day and night. Traveling and dining out are always high on her to-do list