Bold and Strong: Coffee Chat with Author Katherine St. John

I am thrilled to be chatting with Katherine St. John, author of The Lion’s Den (June 30, 2020) and The Siren (May 4, 2021). Katherine has led a varied career including working in the film industry for more than a decade. Join us as we talk about compliments from readers, writing what you know, contending with the blank page, and some of Katherine’s recommended vacation spots.

Me: Are you a coffee drinker? What is your go-to beverage when writing?

Katherine: Yes! I am an iced latte drinker. I like a double espresso with either coconut or almond milk over ice. Rarely do I drink it hot, I much prefer it cold!

Me: How old are your children? What do they think about your writing? 

Katherine: I have two girls, ages 5 & 7. Though they are much too young to be allowed to read my books yet, they are my biggest fans and convinced I am the greatest writer in the world, bless their little hearts. I have caught the 7-year-old sneaking off with a copy of The Siren or The Lion’s Den multiple times, trying to read it without my knowledge. I have promised her when she’s sixteen, she can finally read my books. 

Me: Describe the feeling of holding your book(s) in your hand for the first time.

Katherine: Holding my books in my hands for the first time is such a feeling of accomplishment! The finality of it is satisfying as well. As an author, you do so many edits, and seeing the book in print you know that you’re finished with this one and can finally let it go.

Me: With The Siren following so closely on the heels of your debut novel, this process must feel like a whirlwind. Can you describe what some of these months have been like for you? How do you transition from the “writing” part of your work to the marketing aspect?

Katherine: It’s interesting because while it has been somewhat of a whirlwind timing-wise, it’s all taken place during Covid-19, so I still haven’t gotten to do any live events or have a launch party. Los Angeles, where I lived until recently, was so locked down that I never even got to see The Lion’s Den hardcover in a store! The other day I went into a bookstore to sign copies of The Siren, and it was the first time I’d actually signed in a store. It felt so great to be in the same room with the booksellers. I’ll tell you, signing books in my living room to mail back to stores was pretty anticlimactic. I’m super grateful for the online community of readers I’ve found on bookstagram, who have been so enthusiastic about the books and generous with their reviews. As for writing vs. marketing, because I’m writing a book a year, I am always doing both. I definitely have to devote more time to marketing around launch, but I always make sure I have at least a couple of hours to write every day. It’s how I stay sane.

Me: I love reading an interesting author biography, and yours definitely is. Of your previous professions, have any made their way into your novels? Aside from writing, what is the most interesting job you have held?

Katherine: Oh yes! Acting, which was what I studied in college and spent most of my time and energy on before I began writing, has obviously made it into both The Lion’s Den (Belle is a struggling actress) and The Siren, which takes place on a movie set. I find my training as an actor indispensable as an author, often using acting techniques to get into a character’s head and write from her point of view. 

I’d say that my most meaningful job outside of acting and writing has been as a yoga instructor. I am a strong believer in the power of yoga and being able to help other people find joy and freedom in their practice was really rewarding. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I also worked as a bartender for Redbull, which could mean getting splattered with mud while mixing Redbull vodkas at motocross races, or trying not to act starstruck while backstage at Coachella mixing drinks for the bands.  

Me: So far, what is the best comment or compliment you have received from a reader?

Katherine: Oh man, I am so grateful for any compliment, but I think the one that gives me most pleasure with this second book coming out into the world is when people say that I’m an “auto-buy” author for them, because it means they liked the stories I’ve told and my writing enough to trust me to take them on the journey of the next book, whatever that may be!

Me: Writing instructors often advise writers to “write what we know.” What did you already “know” when you began writing The Siren? What did you discover along the way?

Katherine: Having spent over a decade in the film business, both in front of and behind the camera, I knew the film industry incredibly well, and also knew so many different personalities and issues that fit within that world. A film set can be so insular with everyone working long hours with a common goal in a remote location, and that can be either great or awful, depending on the people involved. Add secrets, lies, and ulterior motives, and you’re bound to have an interesting story emerge!

Me: How do you choose character names? Do any of them hold personal significance for you?

Katherine: I put a lot of thought into character names, whether to make them meaningful or simply to make them memorable enough that the reader doesn’t get confused, which can be a challenge when you introduce as many characters as I do! To that end, sometimes I choose names with alliteration (Summer Sanderson in The Lion’s Den) or that make the character easier to remember (Amythest in The Lion’s Den has amethyst eyes). In The Siren, Stella means “star,” Cole is similar to “coal,” a color that represents him I think, with the last name “Power,” for obvious reasons. Felicity means luck, and the name she was born with, Phoenix, is the mythical bird that rises from the ashes. 

Me: If someone close to you said that they were going to begin working on a novel, what advice would you give them?

Katherine: To quote Nike, “Just do it.”

If you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll never do it. That doesn’t mean that every idea is worthy of an entire novel (believe me, I have a folder full of ideas that didn’t make the cut), but once you have a story you are passionate about, a story you really want to spend the time and energy to turn into a book, stop thinking and write. There’s something to be said for “destroying the power of the white” by putting words down!

And hold off on self-judgment. Some genius once said that “writing a first draft is like scooping sand into a sandbox knowing that later I will make castles.” I love that because any time I’m writing a first draft I always think it’s garbage. Then I go back and reread and edit, and discover it’s not garbage at all, but clay that I can shape into something beautiful.

Me: Who are your major literary influences?

Katherine: That’s a tough one because I’m such an avid reader that my influences are always evolving! I am a big fan of Hemingway’s bare bones style of writing. For thrillers, I love Ruth Ware, and for romance, Abby Jimenez. Other favorite authors include Joan Didion, Brit Bennett, Sarah Waters, Jack Kerouac, Celeste Ng, and Margaret Atwood. 

Me: As a former travel coordinator, what are some must-see locations? What about specifically in the Caribbean?

Katherine: I have missed travelling over the past year and can’t wait to get back to it! Some of my favorite places in the world, in no particular order: Mykonos, Greece; Bellagio, Italy; Koh Samui, Thailand; Palm Springs, CA; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas, and really love Harbor Island. Getting there requires a tiny plane or boat (there’s a ferry from Nassau), but the pink sand beaches and quaint little town are totally worth the trip. 

Me: What are your literary goals and how do you measure your own success?

Katherine: I don’t have specific numbers or anything, but I want to share my stories with as many readers as I can reach! Like every other author on the planet, I would love to hit the NYT bestsellers list, and to see my books made into movies or whatever would be cool, but really I just want to keep writing. I feel so fortunate to get to do what I love for a living, and hope I can continue to do it for the rest of my life.

Purchase a copy of The Siren; it’s the perfect summer read!

***If you would like your book (or one you represent) considered for an upcoming Coffee Chat, please email melissaface2008@gmail.com.

Purchase a copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.