Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Seeing is Believing by Kate Austin: Interview & Excerpt

There's a magic in life—But Ria Sterling has yet to embrace it, because she considers her ability to predict death from merely touching a photograph a curse. She yearns to use her sight to save just one life. On the other hand, tough-talking detective Carrick Jones and his partner profess not to care about saving anyone. But they do need Ria's help in solving a case. Instead, she predicts that Carrick's partner will die. Soon. And when her vision proves true, Ria goes from psychic to prime suspect…

The one thing she can't predict is her instant attraction to Carrick, a man who doesn't believe in the paranormal—only what his five senses tell him. But when danger threatens, Ria finally sees how to use her gift in a unique way. And to show Carrick the inexplicable power of a love where seeing really is believing…

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“He’s going to die.”
I see his death in the photograph because that’s what I do – it’s my gift and like many gifts from the gods, it isn’t a good one. I hate it. Especially on days like today when some crying mother or wife or lover hands me a photograph and waits for me to tell her that she’s right to be scared to death.
Because I can see it coming. Almost never in time to change it, but that doesn’t stop them from showing up on my doorstep, eyes bright with unshed tears.
“I can’t cry,” they say. “Not until I know for sure.”
“Please,” they say. “Tell me what you see.”
My gift from the gods is to see death.
James Foster. It’s his death I see today and I know by the time his mother and sister get home their phone will be ringing and some jaded cop from a jurisdiction two or three time zones away will be breaking the news.
I don’t know how he’ll die, I only know he will. Soon. Probably before I finish turning off my computer and turning on the alarm system.
Some gift. Foresight, precognition, prescience. Doesn’t matter what you call it, not really. It all boils down to the same thing.
People come to me as a last resort, asking a question to which they don't want the answer. When I was much younger, I thought I might figure out a way to avoid their pain. Lying, I thought, or silence. But they saw it in my face and over the years I discovered that the words seemed to make it easier on them. As my reputation grew, the words themselves took on power.
“He’s going to die.”
I never had to add that it would be soon. Anyone who knew how to find me knew that before they rang the doorbell.
I have tried, over and over, to strengthen my gift, to make it more useful, to see further into the future. “It’s a gift, you can’t change it like a shirt that doesn’t fit,” my mother says, but she doesn’t have to live with it. I do.
I want to save someone, anyone. I want to be in time. But I have learned to stop wishing for the impossible. In the darkest hours of the night, I still want to stop the truck bearing down on them or the knife raised in anger.
But in thirty years and hundreds of photos I have saved only two. Or at least I chose to think I have. But perhaps my vision was wrong, skewed by the alignment of the stars or a head cold. Maybe that particular couple was not meant to die. Even including that couple in my save percentage only brings it up to less than one percent. Not enough to be statistically significant.
I was five and my mother had left a magazine on the kitchen table.
I looked at the man on the cover and I started to cry. My mother said later that I was inconsolable, that I wept right through the night. By the next morning, I couldn’t see out my swollen eyes or breathe through my aching nose. I stopped crying when the noon news came on the radio.
“Elvis Presley has died,” the announcer said. “Last night at his home in Memphis, the King passed away.”
My tears stopped as my mother began to cry.
After the death of the King, I lived a normal life – not even realizing what was missing in our house. Photographs. And the lack of them wasn’t about me. None of us had figured it out then; my crying was simply a fluke. We weren't a family for photographs.
I was a baby when my photographer father left with the cameras.
“So what?” my mother said. “Who needs photos? I have you. All I have to do is look up and there you are.” She’d grab my cheeks and smile at me.
Photos weren’t a part of my childhood. I don’t think my mother had a photograph of my father, not even a wedding shot. I knew what he looked like because of the mirror in the bathroom.
“You look just like him,” my mother would sigh. She’d touch my nose, my cheeks, my lips. “Poor child, you look just like him.”
I never felt deprived. Whenever I needed my father’s advice, I went to the mirror and asked him. Sometimes the answer didn’t come right away, or didn’t make sense, or it took me months to figure out what question the answer was for, but there was always an answer.
I remember being glad I didn’t have to see him to know him – he was always there for me. He was a good man, with strong clean features. His nose was straight, his cheekbones obvious, his eyes changing from olive green to brown depending on the light. His hair was a mousy colour, lightening with streaks of gold and red in the summer. I knew he was handsome because that’s what my Aunt Lucy told me.
“You’ll never be pretty, girl, but you’ll be handsome. Boys won’t get it, but men will. So don’t fret, you’ll come into your own just when all those Barbie dolls are losing it. You’ll be fine.”
I believed her.
I don’t know how people find out about me. They never tell, and I don’t ask. I keep a very low profile, no advertising (what would I say? Deaths predicted, loved ones lost?), no interviews, no money. I do it because I have to.
It wasn’t always this way. For many years, the gift lurked only in nightmares. I was thirteen before it happened again and this time it scared the hell out of all of us.
We were in a pizza parlour – our regular Friday night treat. It was Gran’s turn to pick the songs on the jukebox so she wandered over and stood there, hands on her hips, staring at the numbers. We knew she couldn't see them and that eventually she’d press buttons at random. The results could be anything from What’s Love Got to Do With It? to Careless Whispers. That night it was Money for Nothing.
Aunt Lucy and Mom swapped stories while I sat, head in hands, dreaming about the new boy in my math class. The woman at the next table – red hair, bright yellow scarf wrapped around it – pulled a magazine from her bag. I turned away – we had all learned a lesson with the Elvis fiasco - but not fast enough. The man on the front cover vanished in a storm of tears.
“Ria, honey, what’s wrong?”
Sobs caught in my throat. I couldn’t speak.
“Ria, come on, sweetie, tell us what’s wrong.”
No words, only sobs. They gathered me up and took me home and I cried all night. Inconsolable yet again, and no one knew why. But this time we figured out that the crying was triggered by the photo on the magazine, and this time we figured out why it stopped.
“Rock Hudson died,” Gran said in a voice shaking with unshed tears. “He died of that plague thing.”
The moment his name left her lips, the tears stopped. I hiccupped for a few minutes.
“Rock Hudson? I just saw his picture…
“It made me cry.”
From then on I avoided photos. The TV didn’t do it, nor movies, and I was safe at school. History books were full of already dead people. We didn’t get a newspaper or magazines and I never looked at catalogues.
A year passed and I began to feel safe. But of course I wasn’t.
I caught a glimpse of a photograph for the yearbook, not close enough to identify the people in it, but enough for my gift to kick in. I knew these kids, had seen them in the hallways, had classes with one girl’s younger sister.
I went to bed and stayed there for a month. My mother had no difficulty convincing the doctor I was sick – after crying non-stop for a week I looked like a victim of a disaster. Flood. Fire. Famine. I’d fit in anywhere there were thousands lying injured or dead.
This time there was no relief. The hours of reporting on TV and radio didn’t stop the tears, nor did my mother’s chicken soup. I stood in the back of several different churches for the services where ministers spoke of God’s will and I thought of the drunk drivers – one in their car, one in another – who’d killed them. That didn’t help either.
I lost weight so fast that pretty soon I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d try to eat but even soup choked me. The doctor wanted me fed intravenously but my mother refused to let me stay in the hospital.
Aunt Lucy, the only one who didn’t fall apart every time she saw me, learned to administer the IV and stayed home while my mother and Gran worked.
No one knew what to do – not our family doctor, who’d known me since birth, not the psychiatrists or the child welfare workers. All they could say was, “She’s a teenager, you have to expect mood swings.”
I laugh at that now, but at the time it added a healthy dose of rage to my grief. It didn’t stop the tears but I did get a little stronger. My weight loss slowed and I began to get a little sleep.
And then the miracle occurred

Plotter or pantser? Why?

I am the ultimate pantser, though I prefer the term fogwalker. I almost always begin a story with one small thing – usually a phrase that I’ve heard or seen. I wrote two books of short stories, one of them began with a piece of graffiti I saw scrawled on a wall, the other with a phrase in an article in a newspaper. Once I have those few words, and if I don’t have a book contracted, I put them away. I have a whole bunch of directories in my computer that are simply titles or phrases. Nothing in them yet, but I look at them almost every day. Once I have that phrase? I walk off into the fog. I have no idea what the book will end up being about, have no idea who the characters, have no idea whether or not I can actually finish the story. But I have faith in the process – it’s worked for me for twenty-five years and I definitely don’t mess with it. It’s scary and exhilarating, good and bad, and I love it!

What do you do to unwind and relax?

My only true addiction is to books. I read somewhere around 300-350 books a year and I can’t stop myself. For me, a day without reading is like a day without oxygen. I feel as if something’s missing from my life. I have a to be read pile that’s insane – mostly because I’m obsessed with having enough books to read, books of all different types, because one day I want to read one thing, another day I want to read something else. So in that pile there are literary books, non-fiction, romance, mysteries, science fiction, art books, biographies, you name it, I’ve got it.

So my idea of the absolutely perfect day, the way I unwind and relax? Is to sit down in the morning and read right through until night. A perfect day is when I can read three or four books.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

The most important thing I’d say to beginning writers is to think about Rafael Nadal. Or Nureyev. Or Yo-Yo Ma. And no, I’m not kidding. Because the only way to learn to write is to practice, and the only way to practice writing IS TO WRITE! There’s a rule of thumb about becoming great at anything – it takes about 10,000 hours (by my calculation, that’s somewhere around 500,000 words or 5 books). You wouldn’t expect to take a year of tennis lessons and beat Rafa, would you? Well, you can’t expect to pick up a pen and write a bestseller. So my advice? Write, write, write. Don’t get discouraged early on because you keep getting rejected – of course you’re getting rejected. Think again about playing Rafa. Now once you’ve played tennis for 10,000 hours, you might just beat him. Once you’ve written the equivalent of five books, you might just get acceptance or encouragement.

Write. That’s key to everything.

What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?

Friends. Wine. Patience. If you’ve got these things, you’re probably going to be okay.

Is there a writer you idolize? If so who?

Hmm, this is a tough question. Because when you read as much as I do, it’s tough to pick just one. And it’s different for me on different days, though I do tend be rotate around a few that I idolize. So I can’t tell you one – but I will tell you my today’s list: Michael Ondaatje, Nora Roberts, Connie Willis, Umberto Eco, Suzanne Brockmann, Jane Austen. And now I have to stop, or I’d just go on and on and on…

New York or LA? Why?

New York. No question. I’m a city person and I LOVE to walk. My idea of a perfect city is one where I can walk everywhere I need to be. I love Amsterdam and Paris and London and Venice for the same reason. I can walk those cities.

Sometime I’m going to spend three months in New York. I’m going to pin a giant street map on my wall and I’m going to walk every single day until I’ve marked off each street. Every street in Manhattan has got something that you can’t find anywhere else. It’ll be like a three month treasure hunt.

What makes you happy?

I think it would be easier for me to tell you what makes me unhappy. I’m the person who is always smiling – mostly at the small stuff. Today? A puppy on the street who figured out how to sit on command, and then a couple came up to pet him, and he lost it completely. A friend’s 7 year old daughter who had one of her drawings published in the Thomas the Tank Engine magazine. Perfect sushi for lunch. 

Other days? It might be writing a great sentence or finding a pair of shoes I love. Getting an extra hour for reading. Finding an author I love and finding out she’s written a whole bunch of books. Movies. Walking on the beach.

The big things are often out of our control (like getting published or making a bestseller list) so I try and focus on the small stuff. That way, I’m almost always happy.

Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

Scary. Satisfying. War.

Do you have a Website or Blog?

Even though Kate is an Aries (the fire sign), she thinks of herself as a water baby. She can't resist the ocean; it sings to her. Every day, she spends at least a few moments watching the water, and on good – or very bad – days, you can find her walking the Seawall for hours, rain or shine.

Kate Austin has worked as a legal assistant, a commercial fisher, a brewery manager, a teacher, a technical writer, and a herring popper, while managing to read an average of a book a day. Go ahead – ask her anything. If she doesn't know the answer, she's more than happy to make it up because she's been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember.

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1 comment:

Helen said...

i love the cover. It is so pretty. I would like an epub if you have it.