Friday, September 10, 2010

Fencing you In with Guest Blogger: Kathryn Shay

Today the Book Boost welcomes author Kathryn Shay who is here to discuss Invisible Fences!

Here's what she had to say...

Dear Book Boost Readers,

Thanks for inviting me to blog on your site. By way of introduction, I’m Kathryn Shay and I’ve been published by Harlequin and The Berkley Publishing Group for the last fifteen years. The Perfect Family, released from Bold Strokes Books, is my thirty-seventh novel. My work has been characterized by reviewers and readers as highly emotional, poignant and heart wrenching.

For this stop on my Virtual Book Tour I’d like to talk about invisible fences. I have a little Yorkshire terrier named Hattie, whose only fault was she would run away as soon as she got in the yard. Consequently we put up an invisible fence, which was good for her. But it got me thinking about the invisible fences we put around ourselves as writers and that maybe they’re not so good for us. Advice to aspiring authors such as “Write for the market,” “Don’t try anything too risky,” “Stay in your comfort zone,” all have their good points, but I also think this wisdom fences us in.

Take a beginning writer. She’s told to conform to guidelines, write what’s popular, and not be too innovative. She’s advised to adhere to strict guidelines when contacting an agent or an editor. She’s advised, basically, not to color outside of the lines.

This also happens to veteran writers. “Establish your brand,” “Don’t write something different or you’ll confuse/disappoint your readers,” and “Don’t rock the boat in the publishing house for which you write,” are common pieces of advice given to us.

Again, there’s a place for such advice, but I also believe that writers are hemmed in by this kind of thing, and not in a good way. We read all the time about the new author or new NY Times Bestseller who wrote a different kind of book, who personally phoned an editor and asked to work with her, who doggedly pursued an “unpopular topic” and made a success of it.

As for me, The Perfect Family was a departure from what I usually write because it’s not a romance. The story follows the Davidsons: they’re an average American family with a good life and they consider themselves lucky to have each other. Then their seventeen year old son tells them he’s gay and their world shifts. They have no idea what they will go through after Jamie’s disclosure: Jamie's father Mike can't reconcile his religious beliefs with his son's sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. The book is full of both conflict and love, ending on a redeeming note.

I can’t tell you how scary this project was to embark on, or how I worry whether it will be a success or disappoint readers. But even with these mixed emotions, I’m so proud of that story, the clich├ęd “book of my heart,” because it’s a good piece of fiction, an important one, one that might help other people through a situations like those presented in the book. It’s also personally satisfying because I have a gay son and I know how hard it can be to deal with the initial disclosure and ensuing reactions from others.

So, yes, I believe writers should build their careers with the safety net of guidelines and protocol (I did) but I also believe we should tear down some of those metaphorical invisible fences we put up that limit us and don’t let us grow.

Kathryn Shay

A Note from the Book Boost: Kathryn, I'm still stuck on where you told us that this was your 37th novel! That is quite impressive. I believe that writers are artists and that we should always "color outside the lines" when it comes to our creations. Good for you for being brave enough to write the book of your heart. Please tell us more about your book.


In The Perfect Family, seventeen-year old Jamie Davidson doesn't think being gay should be such a big deal...until he comes out to his parents and friends. Even as Jamie celebrates no longer needing to hide his true self and looks forward to the excitement of openly dating another boy, the entire Davidson family is thrown into turmoil. What happens in their community, in the high school, in church as well as among friends and relatives is vividly portrayed. Every member of their “perfect family” must search their hearts to reconnect with each other in this honest, heartwarming, and hopeful look at the redemptive power of love and family.


Maggie heard Jamie come into the laundry room, where she was trying to make headway with the family’s clothes. Turning, she saw him drop to sit on the step and got a look at his face.

“You all right, honey?”

“Yeah.” Jamie gave her a fake smile. “I gotta talk to you.”

Her pulse rate sped up. Good news never followed that statement. She set the shirt on the washing machine. “Shoot.”

“I have a date Friday night.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“I think so.” His gaze locked with hers. “I hope you do, too.”

“Of course I do. Can we meet her?”

“It’s not a her, Mom. It’s a him.”

“A him?” She stared at her son blankly. The sound of the refrigerator across the room, the ticking of the clock on the wall seemed unnaturally loud. When realization hit, her mother’s heart tightened in her chest. “You have a date with a boy.”

A long pause. “It’s okay, isn’t it?”

Please God let me handle this right. After a moment of speechlessness, she said, “O-of course it is.”

Jamie’s fingers tightened on their dog Buck’s collar. Suddenly, her son seemed smaller, more fragile in his jeans and sweatshirt.

Maggie crossed to him, knelt down and took both of his hands in hers. His were freezing cold.

“Honey, you know there’s nothing you could ever tell me, ever do or feel that would make me love you less.”

A frown. “Yeah, I know that.”

Well, she’d done this right. At least he knew her love was unconditional. But oh my God…the ramifications of his admission were far reaching.

“I just…I don’t want this to make you sad.” He glanced down at the linoleum, then back to her again. “Are you upset?”

“That you’re gay?”


You have no idea.

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