Recently I talked with an author on Goodreads on some message forum I don’t remember. I do remember enjoying the conversation and her thoughts, so I picked up one of her books. I’m glad I did. The Old Mermaid’s Tale by Kathleen Valentine is hard to put down. It’s a beautiful coming of age story mixed with romance and recent history, accompanied by lush settings. I suggested it to my Facebook friends and a couple of them have picked it up and are loving it as much as I did.
The story line: Clair is a small town Ohio girl who makes a break from her rural life to attend college in Erie, Pennsylvania, a seaport town. Finding the stories of fisherman in the 1960s terribly romantic, Clair grabs the chance to work at a cafe where they hang out and finds herself right in the midst of their world, so different than her own. She and her friends embark on a true adventure of love, lust, gritty life, and growth. Valentine’s characters are deeply drawn, wonderfully flawed, full of spirit and hope and sadness and strength. Mix in music, mermaids, bits of history, and an enviable romance, and The Old Mermaid’s Tale sets sparks to the craft of storytelling in its finest form.
I also need to point out that this is the first indie novel I rated with 5 stars. I rarely give 5 stars to any novel, indie or traditional.
I was able to catch up with Kathleen Valentine for a quick interview about her debut novel and other artsy interests.
LK: Welcome Kathleen! As you can see, I just loved your first novel. I have to say that we have plenty in common, from a love of water and a Pennsylvania residence to a love of Hemingway, along with both being indie authors with art backgrounds. I look very much forward to chatting with you today!
First, are there any comments you’d like to make about the review of An Old Mermaid’s Tale or anything you’d like to add?
KV: That was a very lovely review that you gave my book. I deeply appreciate it. I suppose every writer more than anything else wants to touch their readers hearts and I really felt like you expressed your reactions well. It is very gratifying to me as the author.
LK: My pleasure! Let’s start with location. You’re originally from north central Pennsylvania and you set The Old Mermaid’s Tale in Erie. Have you spent a lot of time there? What was it that drew you in enough to use it as a novel setting?
KV: When I was little I often spent a few weeks in the summer with my aunt and uncle who lived in Erie. My uncle loved the sea stories and sea legends and sometimes in the evening he'd take me down to the public docks and tell me stories about the ships. All the scenes when Clair goes to the public pier are directly from those visits.
Later I attended college in Erie at Behrend. Chesterton College in the book is my version of Behrend. A few of the other places are also from my memories of that period – Sullivan's Pub, Waldameer Park, the museum on sixth Street – those are all places I remember well. I worked in a diner for a couple of years on the night shift. It was quite an experience for a girl from rural Pennsylvania. One of the most interesting things that happened was when the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town. The performers and workers would come in the diner at night. There was one man who tried to get me to run away with him. He was an animal trainer from Quebec. I didn't go with him but I never forgot him. His name was Baptiste.
LK: Ah, so there’s quite a bit of truth behind this novel. I love knowing you pulled Baptiste’s name from a real character you met.
I’ve been to Gloucester, Massachusetts, your current residence, and it’s extraordinarily beautiful. I’d love to go back. What drew you there and have you used it as a setting?
KV: I moved here because I was drawn to the arts community. I was living in Marblehead, MA but spent all my free time in Gloucester so finally I decided to move here. My newest novel, Depraved Heart, is set here. It is a novel of romantic suspense with a lot of scenes in Gloucester.
LK: I have to ask, since The Old Mermaid’s Tale talks of fisherman and the dangers they encounter: Do you fish? Or do you otherwise spend much time out on the water?
KV: I don't fish but I spent several years with a man who was a commercial fisherman and I learned a lot from him. I've also spent a fair amount of time sailing and on whale watches and things of that sort.
LK: I love the storytelling theme of the book. How important do you think the oral storytelling tradition was, and is it still? Do you have any favorite storyteller authors?
KV: I think oral tradition is incredibly important especially in these days when families are becoming so broken up and live so far away from one another. I grew up in a family where storytelling was a big part of every family occasions. I can remember family parties where the whole house would be filled with people and every room you walked in to there would be people sitting around telling stories. Right now I am working on a collection of stories all set in the same town with the same characters but each one is based in a story from my growing up years. As far as storytellers are concerned, I really admire Garrison Keillor and James Thurber, of course.
LK: I look forward to release of that book. It sounds wonderful! Speaking of art, you have an art/design background and you do your own covers, which I love, by the way. Do you have advice for indie authors on cover design or on doing their own?
KV: It's tough because a lot of indie artists shoot themselves in the foot by not paying attention to their cover. If you are not an artist and are on a limited budget, you can try to find someone to swap services with to get a better cover. I do this a lot with fellow writers. I'll swap a cover design for proof-reading or something like that.
LK: Great idea. I know I bypass books with unprofessional covers because I’m afraid the book will be unprofessional. Covers matter that much.
Would you tell us how you became an indie author?
KV: Sure. It was an accident. Seriously, since 2003 I have run my own design business and over the years I was hired to design books by people who were publishing independently. I designed several books for a local art association and then a man who was writing a collectors guide to clocks hired me to design a book for him. Eventually I decided, since I didn't have to go to the expense of hiring designers, it made sense to publish as an indie – especially because the profit margin is much higher.
LK: How likely are you to recommend to other writers that they go it on their own?
KV: It depends. Being an indie has its ups and downs. I would never attempt it if I had to hire designers, someone to do a web site, marketing materials, etc. But if you can afford to do that then being an indie can be a good way to go. Personally, I think I like designing my covers and my marketing materials as much as I love writing. I've even designed covers for books I'll probably never get around to writing just because I love working with images.
LK: Just for fun, what is your favorite color and why?
KV: Sky blue – nothing is as beautiful to me as the sky on a beautiful day, summer or winter.
LK: How about your favorite music, either singer/band or genre? Do you write with music?
KV: I'm more of a classical music fan, mostly from the baroque period – Albinoni, Teleman, Allegri. Yes, I write with that kind of music on. I also like a lot of the independent singer/songwriters. Garnet Rogers, who served as my model for Baptiste's voice in The Old Mermaid's Tale, is a particular favorite.
LK: I’ll have to look up Garnet Rogers, I think. Do you have a favorite fine artist? Dancer? Actor/actress?
KV: I love Matisse but mostly I am drawn to the Hudson River School and the luminists. There is a LOT of art in my latest novel, Depraved Heart. My second novel, Each Angel Burns, is about a sculpture of the archangel Gabriel by Giovanni Dupré that has disappeared.
There are a lot of dancers I love – Angel Corella thrills me. One of the main characters in Depraved Heart is a dancer and I tell people that in my mind he is a cross between Angel Corella and Russell Brand.
LK: In another interview, you said, “If you don’t take pride in your craft, do something else.” Can you talk a bit about this?
KV: Sure. I'm a firm believer that everyone has a gift and it is part of your destiny to find that and to do it to the best of your ability. Sometimes we get the idea that we are SUPPOSED to do a certain thing. You grow up with the idea that you have to be a doctor or a scientist or whatever but you discover, as you pursue it, that your heart just isn't in it. That is not a good way to go through life. I think when you find the thing you were meant to do you will pursue it with passion and a deep desire to do it to the very best of your ability. It is better to bake a perfect pie than to write a mediocre novel. Society has a distorted sense of what is important and it is critical to each person's happiness to realize where their gifts fit in the overall scheme of things.
LK: Well said. I fully agree.
I know you’re an avid reader. What are you reading now?
KV: Right now I am reading The Meaning of Isolated Objects by Billie Hinton on my Kindle and listening to the Audible version of The Daughters of Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt while I sew or kit.
LK: Nice to find others who read different books at the same time! If you won a week-long getaway, all expenses paid, to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
KV: Funny you should say that, I was just thinking I need a week with my Kindle and my laptop somewhere quiet and alone for a week. I love the coast of Maine and Cape Cod. I don't really have any destinations per se that interest me, just the conditions when I get there. Although I would like to spend some time in the Orkney Islands because of the lace knitting culture there.
LK: The Old Mermaid’s Tale is romantic but not a genre romance. I believe you describe it as contemporary fiction. One thing I love about it is that it’s literary and it’s romance. It’s what I call literary romance, the best of both genres meshed together. That’s also what I call my own. I’ve seen labels such as “literary thriller” recently. How do you feel about the trend, specifically within indie writing, to mix and blend genres? Do you think there’s enough market for them?
KV: I don't know. I write what interests me and I absolutely refuse to write according to a specific formula. I'm on something of a mission to restore the word “romance” back to its origins, meaning a book that combines love, adventure, honor, and poetics. One of the greatest of the American classical romances is Last of the Mohicans and we have lost so much of that kind of romance. I want novels with characters I can love and relate to. I've noticed a disturbing tendency in a lot of contemporary novels for the characters to be genuinely obnoxious people with no redeeming values. I wouldn't hang out with people like that in real life so why would I want to spend time reading about them?
LK: Again, I fully agree. I once had a lady ask what the point of a romance novel was if it wasn’t graphic. Sad, I think. Romance as it should be defined does seem to be getting lost in a quagmire of sex, and the two are not the same.
Along that line, what do you most hope to give your readers when they pick up one of your books?
KV: My deepest hope is that my readers will just get lost. That they will enter into the world I create, fall in love with the people there, experience their passions and their heart-break and their joy. I want readers to fall in love.
LK: Kathleen, thanks so much for visiting with us! I’ll be reading more of your work and I hope those who haven’t yet will give it a try. Depraved Heart sounds like a must-read. Before you go, are there any indie artists you’d like to give a shout out? Personal site links welcome.
KV: I love Billie Hinton's work. I think she is one of the most superb indie writers out there. Also although Kiana Davenport has been traditionally published she is publishing some collections of short stories as an indie and has suffered for that from her traditional pulisher. She's a great supporter of indies so I want to mention her. I'm also a big fan of Andre Juté. His book Iditarod is one of the best indie books I've ever read.
Readers, please check out Kathleen Valentine’s site. Along with her book info, you’ll find her design work, more interviews, and some great info on publishing!
Web site with blog and buy links: