How I Wrote It: Catherine

Do you ever wonder why an author chooses a certain word or includes a particular detail in her book? Do you ever read a scene and think: Why did the writer take the story’s action in that direction? At Figment, we like to know the story behind the story. Which is why we were thrilled that April Lindner, the author of Catherine, was nice enough to share a scene from her new book and give us a little insight into her writing process. 

Catherine by April LindnerCatherine is a retelling of the classic romantic novel Wuthering Heights—and it combines a forbidden romance with a modern mystery. Chelsea has grown up believing her mother died of a sudden illness. But when Chelsea finds an old letter from her mom, Catherine, she learns she didn’t die. She disappeared. Driven by unanswered questions, Chelsea sets out to find her mother, starting with the letter’s return address.

Chelsea’s story is interwoven with that of Catherine, the beautiful, self-assured daughter of a Manhattan nightclub owner. When Catherine meets Hence, a passionate, talented musician on the brink of success, she is swept away in a fiery romance, but her love for Hence is tested by a cruel whim of fate.

You can read the first two chapters of Catherine here. Below are some excerpts, with some thoughtful notes from April explaining why and how she wrote the scene:

Catherine opens with this passage, spoken by Chelsea:

The first paragraph of a novel has to do so many things at once: reel in the reader, explain the narrative situation, and plant the seeds of conflict. Most of all, a novel with a first-person narrator has to give the reader a sense of voice—who the narrator is and what drives her.

I want the reader to know right away that Chelsea is lonely. She lives with her distracted, workaholic father, and because the two of them have moved around a lot, she doesn’t have many friends. That’s why as Chelsea travels toward her mother’s childhood home, she fantasizes about the big, warm extended family she might find there.

But Chelsea is unnerved by what she finds instead:

Already we’ve got conflict. Chelsea wants to learn about the mother she never really knew, but first she’s got to get into The Underground and see if anyone on the inside can help her. More importantly, that conflict grows from character. Chelsea’s need to belong to someone, to matter, drives her to find her mother.

And whether she will summon the courage she needs is a question of character, too. Chelsea doesn’t see herself as particularly brave, focused, or determined, but she will need to be all these things and more to achieve her goal.

Since Chelsea’s chapters alternate with Catherine’s, the novel actually has two narrators, and two openings. Like Chelsea, Catherine is seventeen years old when her story begins, and the reader needs to know right away that she is all of the things Chelsea wants to be: courageous, confident, and determined. When she comes home from school and finds a stray guitarist on the doorstep of The Underground, she sizes up the newcomer and knows, immediately, that he’s someone she wants to help.

When it comes to the stranger on her doorstep, Catherine trusts her instincts and never doubts her ability to gain his trust. In turn, her absolute confidence allows her to win over the shy, secretive Hence.

Here Catherine’s body language is meant to convey her poise and nonchalance. Though she’s already interested in Hence, she’s not shy or awkward with him. She’s simply herself—an enviable trait.

Catherine is matter-of-fact about being rock-and-roll royalty. Since birth, she’s lived above a legendary nightclub and been the daughter of a man who makes or breaks the careers of aspiring musicians; these things are no big deal to her.

Though I want the reader to admire and even to envy Catherine—after all, who wouldn’t want to be smart, gorgeous, and self-possessed?—like all fully drawn characters, she has a central flaw that gets her into trouble: Her sense that she’s entitled to get everything she wants out of life. Just as with Chelsea, the conflict in Catherine’s story grows from whom she is—from her strengths and her weaknesses.

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