Interview with Kathryn Shay: 'The Perfect Family has been a huge undertaking'

Kathryn Shay is a lifelong writer. At fifteen, she penned her first ‘romance,’ a short story about a female newspaper reporter in New York City and her fight to make a name for herself in a world of male journalists – and with one hardheaded editor in particular. Looking back, Kathryn says she should have known then that writing was in her future. But as so often happens, fate sent her detouring down another path.

Fully intending to pursue her dream of big city lights and success in the literary world, Kathryn took every creative writing class available at the small private women’s college she attended in upstate New York. Instead, other dreams took precedence. She met and subsequently married a wonderful guy who’d attended a neighboring school, then completed her practice teaching, a requirement for the education degree she never intended to use. But says Kathryn, “I fell in love with teaching the first day I was up in front of a class, and knew I was meant to do that.”

Kathryn went on to build a successful career in the New York state school system, thoroughly enjoying her work with adolescents. But by the early 1990s, she’d again made room in her life for writing. It was then that she submitted her first manuscript to publishers and agents. Despite enduring two years of rejections, she persevered. And on a snowy December afternoon in 1994, Kathryn Shay sold her first book to Harlequin Superromance.

Since that first sale, Kathryn has written twenty-five books for Harlequin, nine mainstream contemporary romances for the Berkley Publishing Group, and two online novellas, which Berkley then published in traditional print format. Her first mainstream fiction book will be out from Bold Strokes Books in September, 2010

Kathryn has become known for her powerful characterizations – readers say they feel they know the people in her books – and her heart-wrenching, emotional writing (her favorite comments are that fans cried while reading her books or stayed up late to finish them). In testament to her skill, the author has won five RT BookClub Magazine Reviewers Choice Awards, three Holt Medallions, two Desert Quill Awards, the Golden Leaf Award, and several online accolades.

Even in light of her writing success, that initial love of teaching never wavered for Kathryn. She finished out her teaching career in 2004, retiring from the same school where her career began. These days, she lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children. “My life is very full,” she reports, “but very happy. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to pursue and achieve my dreams.”

You can visit Kathryn’s website at

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Kathryn. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing professionally and how your journey led to writing your latest book, The Perfect Family?

I sold my first book in 1994 and this upcoming book, The Perfect Family, is my 37th published novel. I was teaching full time when I sold for publication and continued to teach for ten more years while I wrote two books a year. Then I decided I wanted to write longer, grittier books and pursued another publisher.

What led to writing this book was when my son came out gay, I decided it was time to tell a story around that issue. The Perfect Family is fiction but touches on some of the things my own family went through. I wished then I’d had a book like this to help me understand that a family’s struggle when a teen comes out is okay, but he deserves love and support from them, too. And as I said, I was also a high school teacher for many years and I know teenagers. I know how they react to people who are different from them, how sexual orientation can freak them out and how they can be cruel. But they can also be unbelievably loyal and supportive. I tried to show all this in the book.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

The Davidsons consider themselves the “perfect family.” They are loving, supportive and kind to each other. Maggie, the mother, particularly wanted a perfect family because of her dysfunctional childhood. When Jamie, the son, comes out, it shakes the foundation of their lives. Because they struggle so much, they realize they aren’t so perfect after all. When they work through their problems (and they do--the book is uplifting and redeeming in the end) they realize having a perfect family is not only impossible but unnecessary.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

I believed this book should be published because it illustrates some important themes. Crises occur in families, not only when a kid comes out but in all kinds of situations. I wanted to show how families can disagree with each other’s viewpoints, work through their conflict over any issue and still maintain a loving, giving relationship.

Q: Can you tell us the story behind your book cover? Did you choose it or did your publisher, Bold Strokes Books, have full control? Were you happy with the decision or did you have something else in mind?

I’m thrilled with the cover of The Perfect Family. And I had a great deal of input. My publisher sent me several choices for the front cover and I picked one. Then we had to decide to go in blue or black. Then we played around with the fonts. It worked out because this cover is truly gorgeous and captures the essence of the book.

Q: How have you approached marketing your book? Do you have someone doing it for you or have you had to do most of the marketing yourself?

This is the first of the books I’ve written where I’ve done a full-fledged marking campaign. I started early, at least six months before publication date, getting advance review copies to authors and professionals. Then I contacted niche audiences. For my romance and women’s fiction base, we got endorsements from nationally known writers and professionals to use on the book cover. I then set up a virtual book tour with Pump Up You Promo, at I’m stopping at over 30 websites online for either a review of the book, an interview with me or to post a guest blog. We’ve done a trailer for the book up at which beautifully portrays the storyline. Second, I contacted the gay community. National PFLAG wrote a wonderful review of the book, which will be up when it’s released in September. I will be mailing a flyer about the book to PFLAG chapters soon. I also got in touch with the Gay Alliance and there’s already been an article on me in their newspaper in my home town. Several other newspapers and magazines are being contacted, too. Then I targeted librarians. We sent local librarians advance review copies in hopes of them spreading the word; a librarian gave me a wonderful endorsement of the book; I’m attending a local book fair in town that a librarian set up; and at a conference I recently attended, we gave out free books for librarians along with a postcard which read “Seven reasons why librarians should order The Perfect Family for their collections.” Because the book is appropriate for teenagers as well as adults, I had a high school psychologist read and review the book and recommend it for schools and librarians. I then contacted the United Church of Christ, a church featured in the book which unconditionally supports the family. I’ve done promotional flyers for their annual conferences, I may be presenting at one, and I solicited another endorsement from a UCC pastor. We also sent advance review copies to the School Library Journal, the Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Forward Magazine, RT Book Reviews and many more. Finally, I hired someone to help with social media networking.

Needless to say, promotion of The Perfect Family has been a huge undertaking, but I do a little every day. I really want people to read this book!

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I’ve always felt this book had the same tone and themes as Judith Guest’s Ordinary People. That may sound presumptuous but I taught Guest’s book for years in my high school English class and it influenced me greatly in writing style and content.

The Perfect Family is different from most coming out gay stories because its overall tone is one of redemption and hope. I think the book is special because it’s so real, with raw emotions bubbling to the surface on every page. The novel also shows a family can work through anything if they try hard enough.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

I opened to a scene where the Davidson family is returning from vacation in Cancun. Everything’s going well for all of them at this point. While they are in line at the airport, the couple next to them is having a problem. Their little girl is too old to ride the plane free as they’d planned, and they have no money for her ticket to the US to visit her grandparents. In a magnanimous gesture, Mike, the father in the book, offers to pay for the girl’s ticket. I wanted to show what a good guy Mike is because during the story, he’s the one who struggles the most. And lest you doubt the realism of this scene, my own personal hero, my husband, did that once in an airport at Christmastime years ago.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

I don’t plan a sequel to The Perfect Family, but most of my books center around social issues, are controversial and have emotional scenes in them.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Kathy. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

My website, blog and Facebook pages are listed above.

You can buy my book at all brick and mortar stores, at, and at Bold Strokes Books website. And we have a gift for readers from me and my son Ben, on whom the character of Jamie is based. Ben is a singer and a songwriter; he made a CD in high school about “loving a boy” and other adolescent issues. We’re offering a copy of the CD free if you order from the publisher’s website at The CD will be also be offered on my website while copies last.

If readers are interested in my other books, I’m working on new projects now so check my website for those. I’m also making plans to put nine single title novels up on Kindle and Smashwords by the time The Perfect Family is released.


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