Coffee & Conversation with Catherine Reef!

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Wow, can you believe the Staying on Track Conference is only two weeks away?!?  In anticipation of this, joining us today in the cyber cafe for an afternoon coffee break is the lovely Catherine Reef, our fearless non-fiction track leader!

Catherine is the author of many, many books including Jane Austen: A Life Revealed, which received a starred review from Booklist, and was also one of Booklist’s Top Ten Biographies for Youth: 2011 . . .

. . . Ernest Hemingway: A Writer’s Life, which was a 2010 Golden Kite Honor Book, a 2010 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and 2009 Junior Library Guild selection, and received a starred review from Booklist!

. . . . and E. Cummings: A Poet’s Life, which was a 2008 YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults, a 2007 New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age, a 2006 Junior Library Guild Premier Selection Award, and also received a Booklist and School Library Journal starred review!

And while Catherine is getting settled with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, small half caff,

And her favorite snack, a scone–shared with a friend, which today is me, so pass a fork . . .

. . . let me throw out a little tidbit to anyone out there who a.) writes nonfiction, or b.) writes fiction but has thought about giving nonfiction a try, and c.) is thinking about signing up for the conference. 

Seriously.  Sign up!  The non-fiction track is chock-full of great opportunities to improve your craft and learn more about nonfiction.  Check out the brochure for more info.

Okay, and now that Catherine is now settled, tidbit time is over.  Let’s get on with the interview!

Catherine, when did you decide to be a writer?

Growing up, I pursued all kinds of creative activities–not only writing, but also drawing, crafting, and acting in plays. I was in college when I understood that I loved writing most.

How long did your path to that first glorious book sale take, and what were your biggest hurdles?

My biggest hurdle was finding my great subject, which is an essential step in every writer’s development. I found it when my son was ten years old and we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. You might say I had an epiphany, because I suddenly understood that I could write about our shared heritage for young people, and that this work could be meaningful My first book, Washington, D.C., soon followed.

Seeing how hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would have followed?

I don’t have such a regret, but my advice is: never stop believing in yourself, learn as much as you can about using the English language, and keep on trying.

Where’s your favorite place to work? 

I do most of my writing in my small upstairs office. I need my computer, my notes, my reference materials, and my assistant–an Italian greyhound named Nandi–nearby. I also make frequent trips to the Library of Congress, which is a treasure house I couldn’t do without.

How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release?

Jane Austen’s novels and their film adaptations are so popular with young people that it seemed to me–and to my editor–that readers would welcome a book that explores Austen’s life and work.

What is your favorite lines from this book?

 “Jane Austen frustrates anyone who tries to catch a glimpse of her. She seems to turn away or slip behind a hedgerow as soon as an observer draws near. A curious reader can only imagine what she looked like, based on the brief descriptions that have survived–even if these contradict one another.”

 “Pride and Prejudice opens with one of the most famous sentences ever written: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ With these words, Jane Austen announced to her readers that they were about to meet such a man and the people eager to marry him off. What was more, they were going to have fun. The dark cynicism of Sense and Sensibility was largely gone, blown away by a clean, fresh wind.”

Are there any other genres that you’d like to tackle some day?

Not at the moment, but I hope always to grow as a writer, so who knows what the future holds in store!

Who knows, indeed!  Okay, so what’s next on your agenda, any juicy projects you’d like to tell us about?

 I will be following Jane Austen: A Life Revealed with a book on the Brontë family, and I am also at work on a YA biography of Arthur Miller.

Nice!  Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it?  Outline (loosely)

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?   Talk, when I’m ready

Sell by proposal or completed draft?   Proposal

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing?   No preference

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?   I’m enjoying my blog.

Read Kindle or traditional books?   Traditional books

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work?   Daytime

Music to listen to while writing?   Birds and the rumble of trains

Writing tool?   A pen that works and loose sheets of paper

Pair of shoes?   Don’t have one. How about favorite vegetable instead? Chinese broccoli

Guiltiest pleasure?   Chocolate truffles

Line from a movie?   From As Good as It Gets (actually two lines):

“Why can’t I have a normal boyfriend? Just a regular boyfriend, one that doesn’t go nuts on me!”

“Everybody wants that, dear. It doesn’t exist.”


If iTunes asked you to submit a celebrity must-read-list, what books would make your top ten list?

It’s so difficult to narrow the list to ten! But here they are:

1. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, G. B. Edwards

2. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

3. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

4. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

5. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

6. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

7. The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

 8. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Marquez

 9. Walden, Henry David Thoreau

10. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

 What is your favorite writing how-to book?

 Twenty Questions for the Writer, by Jacqueline Berke. It was my college expository-writing text, and I still refer to it.


Who is your author hero, someone you admire or aspire to be?

Russell Freedman has been a great influence and role model. I have learned a great deal about writing from reading his books.

What was your worst rejection and how did you bounce back?

It is in my future.

Awesome, thanks, Catherine, for stopping by the cafe!  We look forward to seeing you at the conference, and best of luck with your writing!

Happy writing, everyone. 🙂

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
This entry was posted in Interviews: Authors. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coffee & Conversation with Catherine Reef!

  1. ediehemingway says:

    Great interview, Laura and Cathy! The NF track is another one I’d like to follow.

  2. So lovely to start the morning by tuning into this literary conversation and nibbling on my own scone. Can’t wait to read Cathy’s next bios, especially the one of Arthur Miller. The NF track at conference sounds great!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.