Monday, May 18, 2015

Happiness for Beginners - and having tea and cake with the author is a good start

Katherine Center
Photo credit: Karen Walrond
 What more could a writer and book-lover like me ask for on a sunny Saturday afternoon but the chance to spend a couple of hours sitting at a table covered in sandwiches, cakes and tea, listening to an author tell us about her new book? Not much more, I can tell you.
I was delighted to be included this weekend in what, I suppose, might have once been called a literary salon. Houston author, Katherine Center, gave a group of book-loving women the chance to hear about her new book, Happiness for Beginners, and about her approach to her work
She told us about how she had written her first novel when she was in 6th grade – a blockbuster about how all the members of Duran Duran had fallen in love with her when their car had suffered a flat tire right outside her home. Though it occurred to me that some of the younger women at the table might never even have heard of Duran Duran, there were certainly several more like me who nodded vigorously, no doubt having shared similar fantasies themselves round about 1983 or ’84.
Katherine also admitted to becoming a closet Romance novel fan in recent years, and she talked about the profound effect that had on her own writing in general and on her approach to Happiness is for Beginners in particular. 

“I like the feeling of being happy when I read a book,” she told us, “and that is something I got from reading Romance novels. I started thinking about it with regard to my own writing. Though I don’t write actual “Romance” novels, I do always have a nice juicy, highly delicious love story in anything I write, because frankly I like that stuff. I’m interested that magical connection than can happen between people, because there’s something very special about those moments, so I started trying to harness that goodness in my own books.”
“I realized that in a lot of the books that I’ve read in my life, the thing that has pulled me through the book is worry. Writing teachers will actually tell you to do that, to make your character worry or make your readers worry about the character. But when I became a mom, I discovered that I don’t like to worry. I do a ton of worrying now that I have kids, living with that constant churning in my stomach, and I don’t like it.  What I like about those Romance novels is that what pulls you through them is not worry, but a delicious sense of anticipation, and the knowledge that you are moving towards something good. Even if the hero and heroine have been thrown into a dungeon by pirates, you know it’s going to be okay in the end. Bad things might happen, but you do have this overwhelming feeling that you are moving towards something good.  Though I suppose it’s the bad stuff that gives the good stuff its meaning.”
But how did this epiphany made a difference to Katherine’s approach to her new novel?
“Happiness for Beginners is the first book I have created as a writer since having that realization as a reader. Writing a story is really something you do to a reader. You are making them have feelings so that they invest in your characters, and you lead them through a simulated experience. You are in charge of what you want your readers to feel. I want my readers to feel hope and happiness, and perhaps get a little misty-eyed, but I want them to come out of it feeling grateful and inspired.”
“I try to give people hope, to make them happy, and to make them laugh. And perhaps I can offer them a way to look at the worst situations and see the best way through them.  When I was reading as a kid, it was all about trying to have something to look forward to, and that’s what I’m now trying to give to the world now. If I’m doing it right, I am putting out the kind of books that a reader just can’t stop reading once they’ve started, but also ones that will offer them a new perspective on their own life too.”

Katherine Center’s new novel, Happiness for Beginners, is published by St. Martin’s Press and is her fifth book. Her previous novels are The Bright Side of Disaster, Get Lucky, Everyone is Beautiful and her 2013 novel, The Lost Husband, which is recently been optioned by a movie production company.

For more information about Katherine and all her novels, please visit her website at

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