Katherine Reay is a wife, mother, runner, and tennis player—and she holds a black belt in tae kwon do. She has also had a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries.
After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, Katherine worked as a marketer for Proctor & Gamble and Sears before returning to school to earn her MTS. Her writing has been published in Focus on the Family and the Upper Room. Dear Mr. Knightley is her first novel.
Katherine currently lives with her husband and three children in Seattle.
Your education—and early career—was in marketing. What sparked your fiction-writing journey?
The real answer is nestled in the “detour” question below, but fiction also wasn’t a major departure for me. I have always been a secret writer, spinning stories and existing quite comfortably in my own head. And prior to fiction I did a lot of analytical writing—and now get to bring some of that to my fiction behind the scenes. I love that.
How does your faith play into your work?
My faith constitutes a meta-theme to all my writing—can’t really separate them. It plays out more concretely within certain characters, but—so far—not the main character in a firm or committed manner. Sam, our heroine in DMK is not even seeking God yet. The idea of a loving father is new to her and, only now, is she beginning to understand the questions, much less the answers. But we are all like that in many respects—our faith changes, develops and grows with each experience and with time spent with God.
Dear Mr. Knightley is about a young woman, Samantha Moore, who learned to protect herself by hiding behind literary characters. She adopted their personas when scared, in danger or when she needed understanding friends. But this device now begins to hurt her (as all hiding eventually does) and others, and she must lay it down to find her own voice, her own life and her own story. It is packed with fun literature references, characters whom I adore and a lot of action in Sam’s life. I hope she gets a rest soon.
I’ve read that you love “to-do” lists. Does that make you a plotter? What’s your writing process like? What provides your best source of inspiration?
Ah . . . I do love “to-do” lists. I get a great sense of accomplishment from a mere cross out. But I don’t write that way. I actually start with an emotion and an ending. I knew how I wanted Sam to feel at the end of Dear Mr. Knightley. Then I backed up and figured out all the pain she’d have to go through to get there. Once I have an emotion and an ending and a few hiccups along the way, I start. That’s my “skeleton.” I then pass over and over, adding all the major systems (vascular, muscles, skin . . . ) up to a nice winter coat. And then I have a story . . .
As for inspiration—I read a lot and I run a lot. A good ten-mile run can help me get a character into all sorts of trouble.
Detours in life can be frustrating—kind of like plot twists in the stories we write—but the outcome is often more intriguing than our original plan. Can you tell us about a recent “detour” in your life—or in one of your character’s lives—that taught you something?
Now this is a great question! Dear Mr. Knightley started on a detour—and changed my life. I was injured in 2009 and many of the ways I defined myself were removed for a time—tennis, running, tae kwon do, cleaning the house, driving carpool, volunteering. . . . I was housebound for several months recovering, praying, reading and, eventually, writing. A novel—and the extraordinary opportunity to write more—came from this time, but most importantly I learned to better trust God in the detours, the hard stuff.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
It ALWAYS involves chocolate. It sounds mundane, but chocolate chip cookies are my favorite. My daughter makes a batch and we roll the dough into parchment paper and freeze them so that we can cut and cook at any time we need warm cookies—our own homemade version of “slice and bake.” And, I’ll confess, they are “needed” on a daily basis.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I’m sad to say I have none. I’m not exaggerating when I say my piano teacher quit on me at age ten. I tried to take it up again in graduate school, but no talent or ear had ever developed. I LOVE music, however, and unlike Sam, who quotes literary characters, I tend to slip song lyrics into conversations—complete with melody.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I’m big ballad and could live quite comfortably in Les Miserables—except I don’t want to die or be miserable. And I have a definite quirky side, so perhaps I should stick with MercyMe’s The Generous Mr. Lovewell. That whole album has a quirky, ballad feel—and a great message.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Another fantastic question! Answer: All of the above.
Strong lead: I work hard, manage a lot and keep a family of five organized.
The girl next door: I rarely wear make-up, love to play outside and bake. (Shouldn’t the cute girl next do those things?)
Mysterious woman: I’m shy. Enough said.
Super heroine: I have a black belt in tae kwon do and love to use it.
Girl in heels: I actually own what I call “an aspirational shoe collection,” consisting of about four pairs of super high heels that I get out every so often, faun over, and will wear when I grow up.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
Dog lover as well. The most defining pet and family favorite was Ben. He died last spring and we haven’t gotten over him. He joined our family while we lived in Ireland after he was dismissed from the guide dog program due to a bad hip. He was a jet black, 95 lb., lab-retriever mix with a steady, faithful, almost Eeyore disposition. Trip (80 lb. yellow lab, all puppy power, real name Triple Grande Extra Foamy Non-fat Latte—no comment on that one) joined our family about a year before Ben died and he misses Ben too.
Thanks, Katherine! It’s great to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
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For more information about Katherine, visit her website.
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