THE OUTCASTS by Kathleen Kent has been a standout read for me this year, and Kathleen stopped by today to answer some questions about this wonderful book, and more, so please welcome her to the blog!
You have a few titles under your belt, and your newest, THE OUTCASTS, just came out, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to write your first novel?
Writing is something that I’ve always done for my own pleasure and I went to the University of Texas thinking I would pursue the Writing Life. But more practical concerns led me to live and work in New York for twenty years, building a career in finance. In the back of my mind, though, a little voice kept whispering how fine it would be to develop some stories that had always fascinated me, and so I took the leap of faith and moved with my family to Texas to begin writing what was my first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter. This first novel was about my grandmother, back nine generations, Martha Carrier who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. I had grown up with stories of Martha and the Carrier family and I wanted to pay homage to her courage and illuminate the day-to-day lives of her family, her husband and children who survived the witch trials.
What inspired you to write your new book, THE OUTCASTS?
My mother was from New England and the Carrier family legends inspired me to write my first two novels, The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife. But I lived most of my childhood in Texas with my dad’s family and spent many hours pouring over books of the Old West. My dad, a life long Texan, was a vivid storyteller himself and used to say—out of earshot of my mom—that all the witches came from her side of the family, but that all the horse thieves came from his side. Some of my favorite authors early on were Louis L’Amour and J. Frank Dobie, and later I was inspired by Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. With The Outcasts I was able to revisit the larger than life myths, heroes and heroines of Texas, with all their faults and weaknesses, as well their bravery and fortitude. What made the settlement men and women of Texas so fascinating to me was the complexity of their character—the infinite variety and nuances of good and bad—and their pitched battles against the extremes of terrain and weather, as well as against their fellow Texans.
While Nate Cannon is certainly the “white hat” character in The Outcasts, I couldn’ t help but fall in love with the strong, yet vulnerable Lucinda Carter. She’s such a survivor, and in spite of her sometimes questionable motives, I couldn’t help but want to see good things happen to her. Did you have a personal favorite character that you enjoyed writing the most?
I did have a special admiration for Lucinda. She is a survivor and was dealt an unfortunate hand with her physical afflictions and her difficult upbringing. She is not an easy person to like, but she is not without deep compassion (witness her nursing civil war veterans, and her love for May) but as with so many women of that time, her choices for survival without the protection and resources from a man were few. What surprised me during my research for the book were how many women pursued prostitution briefly and opportunistically to feed themselves and their families. This practice was something Grandma would most likely not have talked about, but most families knew women who had no other choice to keep from starving, especially during those first few years following the Civil War, and who became, if only briefly, “Upstairs Girls.”
The character I had the most fun writing, though, was Dr. Tom, a veteran Texas Ranger. A renaissance man, he trained as doctor, was a naturalist and loved to read, most particularly Charles Dickens. I think my inspiration for him was the actor Richard Farnsworth, who I fell in love with watching The Grey Fox. He was the ultimate gentleman cowboy: rock steady, loyal, independent and not averse to a fight which he saw was morally justified.
The Outcasts is set in the 1800s and the Gulf Coast settings are almost characters unto themselves. What kind of research did you do for the novel? What are a few things you find most fascinating about that time period?
I spent a lot of time doing traditional research about Texas during the mid 1800’s, but I also travelled to the Gulf Coast, Middle Bayou in particular (now the Armand Bayou Nature Preserve) to get a feel of the terrain, the climate and the critters that inhabit it: wild boar, alligators, poisonous snakes and banana spiders the size of dinner plates. The thing that most surprised me was how the terrain has changed over the last 150 years. Now, the bayou country south of Houston is almost impenetrable with dense underbrush and “trash” trees, but during the years preceding the Civil War the land was mostly vast tracts of prairie land that wild buffalo inhabited until the cattle men chased them off to raise their herds of Longhorn and Angus.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am normally a plotter, and a slow plotter at that. My normal pace of writing is to write 3 sentences and erase 2, but all the while knowing what ending I am working towards. But I began The Outcasts without a strong idea of the ending and began to panic when I was half way finished with no clear sign of one. I needed something that would tie the characters and the story together in a cohesive way, and I went to bed one night really fretting over what that might be. I dreamt that night of Dr. Tom, and he told me that I had had the answer right in front of me the whole time, and then he gave me the ending. I woke up with a strong sense of wonder regarding the messenger, but it worked in a very satisfying way. It’s the first time that that’s happened, and may never happen again. But I’m in debt to Dr. Tom for tying it all together for me.
What, or who, have been some of your biggest influences on your life and/or writing?
As mentioned earlier, I had a special love of writers of the Old West. But there are other authors who left a deep impression on me; Charles Dickens perhaps most of all, because of the depth of his character development and his fearlessness in writing for an emotional reading experience over a purely intellectual one. Sometimes I think contemporary authors tend to shy away from emotionally engaging readers in this way as it may appear overly sentimental or maudlin. But nothing is more disappointing than reading an entire novel and not connecting with any of the characters in a deep and substantive way.
What are you reading now?
I just completed The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell which is a beautifully written novel based on a true life event—a tragic fire in a dance hall in the 1920’s—and the repercussions on the families for generations afterwards. And I’ve just begun reading The Thicket by Joe Lansdale, a tale of blood and redemption in East Texas, which is where I spent so much time as a child.
When you’re not busy at work on your next project, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love taking long walks with my boxer, Mattie Belle, (it’s when I develop a lot of my story ideas) and introducing my 16 year old son to classic movies like “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He would kill me if he knew I said this, but there’s nothing more satisfying than having a good cry with your teenage son.
What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
I’ve begun two projects simultaneously, which I’ve never done before, and at some point I’m going to have to make the decision of which manuscript gets finished first. The first is another historical novel set in a Pennsylvania coal community in 1910, with a mining accident and missing children. The second is a real departure for me: a contemporary crime novel based on a short story, “Coincidences Can Kill You”, that will be published this November in Dallas Noir, which is an anthology of crime stories by a collection of wonderful Dallas authors.
About THE OUTCASTS:
A taut, thrilling adventure story about buried treasure, a manhunt, and a woman determined to make a new life for herself in the old west.
It’s the 19th century on the Gulf Coast, a time of opportunity and lawlessness. After escaping the Texas brothel where she’d been a virtual prisoner, Lucinda Carter heads for Middle Bayou to meet her lover, who has a plan to make them both rich, chasing rumors of a pirate’s buried treasure.
Meanwhile Nate Cannon, a young Texas policeman with a pure heart and a strong sense of justice, is on the hunt for a ruthless killer named McGill who has claimed the lives of men, women, and even children across the frontier. Who—if anyone—will survive when their paths finally cross?
As Lucinda and Nate’s stories converge, guns are drawn, debts are paid, and Kathleen Kent delivers an unforgettable portrait of a woman who will stop at nothing to make a new life for herself.