Black Thorn Books is a new publishing imprint, specialising in crime fiction, launcing in May 2019. Catherine O’Connell is the author of Well Bred and Dead and Well Read and Dead. Her latest novel, The Last Night Out is published by Black Thorn Books on 2nd May 2019.
Catherine kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Last Night Out.
I always knew I would be a writer, and in order to support myself, I worked a pretty wide assortment of jobs including a stint as a bartender, and later as a bar manager, in Chicago’s Rush Street nightclub district in the 1980s. It might go without saying that things could get a little crazy in those bars when you combine late nights and alcohol. When I finally got started on what would be my first completed manuscript—believe me there were plenty of uncompleted—it was a book about a woman in her thirties unsure about getting married. It hadn’t even started out to be a mystery, but somehow she and some of her intimate friends ended up on Rush Street the night of her bachelorette party, and the bride ended up with a stranger. Then a murder worked its way in there, and the plot for The Last Night Out was born.
When I finished the book, I sent it out to an agent, but it never sold, so I stuck it in the crawlspace under my stairs and wrote another book which did sell, Skins, Donald I. Fine 1993. I wrote another two books that ended up in that crawlspace before the publishing of Well Bred and Dead and Well Read and Dead by Harper Collins in 2007 and 2009. Some time after that, I read Gone Girl and, later, Girl on a Train. These two stories of psychologically challenged women, not necessarily what we would typically call ‘nice girls’, resonated with me and I realized The Last Night Out’s time had come. I pulled the manuscript out of the crawlspace and went to work rewriting it. Of course, numerous changes had to be made. My writing style had grown more fluid since then, and I also came up with plot points that hadn’t existed in the original. But I remained true to the original setting and the mind set of women at the time, a time before cell phones and internet and texting, which is why the story is told in a flashback. After much hard work, my agent took it to the market, and here it is!
2. What inspired the book?
A combination of things, some of them cited above. Being in my thirties and seeing how life doesn’t necessarily take the course you envisioned when you were younger was what inspired the character of Maggie. Working in the nightclub arena and seeing some pretty wild behavior was another inspiration. A few troubled women I knew combined to become Kelly. Seeing some of my friends at that age put careers ahead of family and social life became yet another piece of the puzzle. I’ve had a few critics say the characters can’t be related to, but believe me I know every one of those girls.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
The latter part of your question definitely applies to me. I just let those words take me along. Though when I come up with a book idea, I always have a beginning and an end in mind. Now my job is to somehow fill in all that empty space in between. I generally write a short synopsis of where I think the book will go and the main characters. Then I start writing from there. I don’t have a structured program, but sometimes when it’s time to quit for the day, if I have an idea of what should happen next, I’ll write a quick sketch. It’s nice to have that little road map when I go back to the book in the morning. But sometimes the words just take me off course and something completely different from what I’ve planned ends up on the page. (By the way, best writing time? In the morning after coffee!)
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
The thing that always surprises me, and I’ve had four novels published with a fifth coming out in July, not to mention four unpublished novels under my stairs, is reading what I’ve written and wondering just where in the heck did that come from. It’s like I go to another place.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Of course like most writers, I love to read. But other than that I love the outdoors. I am lucky enough to live in the mountains of Colorado, and am an avid skier, hiker and biker. Nothing relaxes me more than rambling alone down a mountain trail. In fact, it’s generally while hiking that I work out troublesome plot points. Solvitur ambulando, which is a Latin phrase meaning solved by walking.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
This is a tough one! I’ve been tossing this one around in my head since getting these questions. I toyed with classics like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. Or epics like Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The Grapes of Wrath. Michener’s Hawaii. It’s a difficult choice, but one thing is for certain, it would have to be long. So my default is Gone With the Wind. The story of Scarlett O’Hara has always fascinated me. I’ve read the book at least seven times.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Q. Why do you write? A. Because I am a writer and I have been since I was a child running home to write short stories after school. It was never suggested to me to write. It just came about of its own accord from some place I don’t fully understand. I’m a writer the same as someone else is a physician or an attorney or a carpenter, and I’ll run out of life long before I run out of stories. It took me a long to time be accept that there is no banker or salesperson inside this frame. Maybe it’s my Irish heritage, but I am a writer and I really have no choice.
About the book
Six friends. Three secrets. One murder.
Maggie is destined to marry the perfect man in two weeks. Desperate for a last wild night on the town before the big day, she gathers six friends for a night to remember.
Only things go wrong, horribly wrong.
Angie’s body is found in the park the following morning and the night to remember quickly becomes a nightmare they wish they could forget. Under police scrutiny, how far will Maggie and her friends go to keep their secrets – far enough to protect a killer?
About the author
Catherine O‘Connell divides her time between Chicago and Aspen, and sits on the board of Aspen Words, a literary centre whose aim is to support writers and reach out to readers. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Catherine has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, the Cox network and numerous radio shows including WGN Radio’s Sunday Papers with Rick Kogan.
lastnightoutbook.com – website
Catherine O’Connell author – FB
*I was asked to host this Q&A in order to celebrate the launch of Black Thorn Books and the publication of The Last Night Out. I did not receive any payment for hosting the content but did receive a copy of the book*