Kater Cheek - Strong Female Leads, High-stakes Action, and Nail-Biting Plots
Kater Cheek is the author of many urban fantasy novels, including the Kit Melbourne series, the Alternate Susan series. She was also the creator of the chicken comic Coop de Grace. Her short work has appeared in various anthologies including The Steampunk User’s Manual and the best-selling anthology The Living Dead. She has a website at www.catherinecheek.com. Kater Cheek is a graduate of 2007 Clarion San Diego. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Witch's Jewel.
Please give us a short introduction to what Witch's Jewel is about.
The idea that started this novel for me was about how an object of immense value might change your life, how getting something that was worth more money than you’d ever see could throw your life off the rails. I think it was based in part off of Frodo inheriting the One Ring from his uncle and partly off of stories about people who won the lottery and had it destroy them.
What inspired you to write about a sorcerous jewel and a mysterious uncle?
Magic jewels are a pretty common fantasy trope, but they are usually pendants or rings or something very common. I wanted to have a magic jewel that was something that in another culture or time would be utterly ordinary but in our own drew attention to itself just by being there. At the time I was studying American Tribal Belly Dance and obsessed with Bollywood dancers, so I decided to make the jewel a bindi. Since it goes over your third eye, the power it granted seemed obvious.
Why do you write urban fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
I first started writing in the early 2000s, and back then, urban fantasy was thin on the ground. I read everything I could find and wanted more, so I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read. I’ve stuck with it because fantasy is a good way to explore controversial topics in a metaphorical way, but you can keep modern culture references.
Tell us more about Kit Melbourne. What makes her tick?
Readers have told me that Kit Melbourne reads as much younger than her age because she lacks self-esteem in her relationships, but she was based very much off how I felt as a young woman, longing for a deep relationship while simultaneously feeling unworthy of it. Because she hasn’t had a lot of people she can trust in her life, Kit is deeply loyal to her friends and her brother. This loyalty is the source of her bravery, but she’s never foolish or impulsive. One of the things she learns over the series is that her main strength is in the alliances she cultivates. That and the magic she learns.?
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a multi-media artist. I’ve worked in ceramic and glass, and now I’ve gotten back into painting. I hadn’t painted for years but I wanted to do illustrations for my middle-grade chapter book and I couldn’t afford a decent artist so I painted a painting a day and after a year I felt like I was skilled enough to do my project justice. (I included a still life and two interior illustrations I did for my middle grade fantasy novel Animal Magic).
I used to study martial arts, like Kit, but now I’m learning circus arts like trapeze and silk and tumbling and wire walking. I love circus arts! It’s helped me overcome my fear of heights for sure.
This is the first book in your Kit Melbourne series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
All my books can be read as standalones—I hate cliffhangers! The first three books are written in first person and follow a loose romantic arc between Kit and Fenwick. The others in the series bring in other characters, and the plots get more complicated and I develop her character a little deeper. I think a reader could pick up any book in the series and follow the story well enough, but I think of the first three books as a trilogy, so book four, Faerie’s Killer, would also be a natural starting place.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
My most challenging character was Susan Stillwater, from the Alternate Susan series. After I started writing the novel, I realized that I didn’t like the person I’d based Susan off of, and so I had to revise it. Once I changed her from “ditzy trainwreck” to “parentified child who is now an adult” she became a lot easier to write.
Do any of your characters take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
The book I’m working on right now, Vampire’s Pawn (Kit Melbourne Book Nine), was originally going to have a plot centered around a cult of weredoes (women who can turn into deer). The weredoes and the cult are still there, but I thought it would be 80% of the story and it turned out to only be a side plot.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I really hope that when people read Witch’s Jewel they’ll decide they want to spend more time with Kit and read the other books. Witch’s Jewel is the easiest to read of the books; but each one of them has its own charms. Dryad’s Blade has a faerie tale quest. Faerie’s Killer is a murder mystery. Shapeshifter’s Turf is an action thriller. Sorrow’s Apprentice has a heist plot which I adored writing.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
Usually I picture one scene clearly in my head and I write it down. Then I figure out what happens before and after that scene. How did they get there? What events led up to that scene happening? What’s the fallout from that event? For example, my work in progress, the first scene had Kit deer hunting, except that her target was one specific deer, a weredoe she had met in human form. I could picture the scene, but I didn’t know when I wrote it exactly why she wanted that one specific deer to die.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
My day job is as a writer for a large corporation, so after work I try to give my eyes a rest for a couple of hours before sitting down at my laptop. If I get stuck on a scene, walking for a few miles will usually help me work it out, and if that doesn’t work, I start on an art project and read or listen to stories or nonfiction until I get ideas.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have a website at www.catherinecheek.com (also via www.katercheek.com) where I post book reviews and have an archive of a lot of the art I’ve done over the years. Readers who sign up for my newsletter there get a link to a deleted scene from Witch’s Jewel. I’m not very active on social media, so if you want to know what’s going on, that’s the best way. I send a newsletter every other week with essays and facts about my work, free books from other indie authors, and cat pictures.
I’m on BookBub