Bio: Catt Dahman has been writing for more than 30 years, has taught in public schools, private schools, home school, and college. Her B.S. and M.S. degrees are from Texas A & M. Her areas of study were: Criminal psychology, art, and English. She is a native of North East Texas, has lived all over the US, (and tries to claim Jamaica as a second home) but is currently back in the Fort Worth, Texas area where she lives with her husband, David (a retired Marine), son Nic, cats, a ferret, and dog. She has also been a public speaker, artist, director for a charity, dabbled as a PI, and more. When not working, she enjoys SCUBA diving (PADI), reading, ruining movies for her family by pointing out mistakes, collecting Tarot card sets , playing Legos with her son, and growing herbs. She now writes full time, has zombie series of nine books, short stories, and several books of horror. She is available by e-reader and paperback.
J Ellington Ashton: http://www.jellingtonashton.com/
1.You’re writing a great serial murderer series about a character named Virgil McLendon, could you tell us a little about the character and what he’s facing in your books?
The Virgil McLendon books have grown. I think they are stand alone books, but Virgil began as a small town deputy (book 1) and was teased a little because of his “weird” ways at looking at crimes. He still solved the crime, because of his quirks and not despite. He thinks of music and logic when he sees a case, and he notices things that don't fit and asks why. And he doesn't know it, because it is way back in the 1970s before law enforcement accepted new techniques, but he uses basic psychology. He listens to people and watches them. He looks for what is out of place and asks why. He never forms a theory but lets the facts stand alone. Because he is so unusual, he goes from deputy, to sheriff, to special agent in the FBI and to then one of the founders of the BAU division, and still doesn't understand why others can't see things just as clearly as he does. My favorite part is when a sheriff asks Virgil if it isn't a little unthinkable to have two serial killers acting in one town at the same time. Virgil is flummoxed. He can't imagine why there wouldn't be! Anyway, he is facing the changes of a country and in crime....
As the series go, we know the characters and sometimes some issues are not resolved. Virgil's entire family is in law enforcement and there are a few family secrets, so besides the legal work, Virgil has a beautiful wife who wants a family and career, friends who are sometimes in danger, and his own fears of failure.
2. These are based on real serial killer cases, was it difficult doing the research? Was it hard reading into some of the more brutal crimes?
It should be, but I guess I have become calloused to the cruelty. That said, one case I can't read about is the Adam Walsh murder, that is the one that gets to me, mainly because there is nothing worse than a killer that brags brutal details- it makes me physically ill. I read a lot, I began in criminal investigation, and even did some work as a private investigator, so I think I've seen a lot and learned to turn off the emotion for most cases. That said, I do have issue with the cases never solved or those that are so confusing that I have to pull court records and sift through before I understand them. One such case occurred close to where I live and for years I was torn on whether the person was guilty. I finally wrote about it and let “Virgil” look at it. I came to a partial conclusion, but not one I feel at peace with. Those cases..the ones where there is doubt...those bother me.
3. Of Blood and Water starts the series and right away you’re tackling some seriously brutal stuff, child murders during the 1970s. Was it difficult to cover that territory or did you feel the subject matter made the book that much more compelling?
That case hurt. After research and writing, I feel the wrong man died for the crime, a guilty man walked free, and I reflected that somewhat in the book. That was supposedly one of the first times that profiling was used, but it was- in my opinion- used without sound experience. It was more that I was using it to fit a scene than allowing the scene to dictate the parameters. It was hard to describe the deaths of the children, and I did try to stay with most facts, but I have done the same for the entire series and it never gets easier. The California Killer was horribly brutal and there was a man who fed victims to alligators...so they are all rough. I read and research the real cases before twisting them and making them a little more difficult to solve . I do feel the reality makes me stay more honest to the real evil that resides in the killers. While some cases are never really resolved (as opposed to solved), in my books, the killers generally meet a bad end. My good guys win. Mostly. There are a few who will be taken care of in later books...it was just not time to let them be punished yet.
4. Criminal profiling was very new during the era McLendon is utilizing it, was it interesting researching how it worked when it was first used? Is it much different than it is today?
People treat Virgil as if he uses magic. People think it's crazy, that he can tell so much from a crime scene and profile a killer because it just wasn't done back then. Virgil uses more of what we use today...he's way ahead of his time. But people are shocked at his logic. I get a kick out of having Virgil smarter than the others. Because of the changes in the 70s, we saw new things. Back then, it never dawned on us that a killer might be a female or a normal person. We still thought it had to be a crazed killer or the drifter or the black man. Virgil is aware that it is never the outside element and that mostly, it is someone very much like the victims as far as race and experiences. I have enjoyed allowing the first female and African American FBI agents to work with Virgil and hope that shows the changes of the country and changes in thinking.
5. Book two Of Lions and Lambs focuses on a male serial killer attacking young men and mutilating them, Of Guilt and Innocence takes place at an institute for the criminally insane, Of Lost and Found takes place at a huge house known for disappearances and book five Of Truth and Lies is about a killer who helps McLendon solve a copycat killer’s case. This is a series that covers a lot of ground! Was it hard coming up with great cases to base McLendon’s cases on?
Unfortunately, there are many brutal crimes available to take from. Of Guilt and Innocence is probably the one that doesn't fit because it is almost fully made up and not based on a crime per se. (The people incarcerated there have committed crimes we may be aware of or have heard in urban myths) but it's really about secrets related to Abraham Lincoln and the research I did is solid, but it's almost over the top as far as believability. Yet, the facts are pretty strong to support my “case”. The stories keep coming because there are so many mysteries out there and I get to combine them with my murder cases. The famed Winchester House appears, but I was able to reinvent it as something far worse. I guess real cases give me a seed, but I take the stories in new ways and tangle them so nothing is ever easy or how it seems. I wouldn't even say the books are about what they look to be. The first is about family traditions (bad ones). I love to tackle that topic and have done so in several books. The second is is more about people being seen as female, black, gay, whatever...as individuals in a changing world. I have dealt with forced religion and it taking ominous meanings, and more. I think I take social situations...injustices or changes...and show this with mysteries. In a new book, I am delving into rape and blaming the victim instead of the offender, but it looks like a simple murder mystery. I don't think I will ever run out of wrongness to write about. (oh...I have a new tag line???)
6. You’re known for taking risks with your writing and enjoying unusual subject matter, tell us a few of your more interesting stories/books and why you like to seek out the unique.
I probably take far too many risks. I don't set out to, and generally have an idea like...”what if some girls took revenge and then”....and from there it gets weird because I find connections and I let the characters control the action and there is always far worse than what we think. To me, there may be a fin at the surface, but I know that down deep, there will be a school of hungry sharks and probably someone who likes the bloodshed and a horrible back story. But isn't that normal? If we see a lady with a black eye, did she really run into a door? Or is there a terrible story there? I think I am all about the secrets and hidden stories because they are truth. I am one of those truth-seekers. No matter how bad it will be, I like to know. And as Virgil would say, why wouldn't there be all kinds of scary things going on behind the normal? We all once were innocents, but we lost that...maybe with Vietnam.
7. You also took part in a collaborative book called Feral Hearts due out from your publishing house J Ellington Ashton very soon, did you enjoy the project? Is it tougher to work with a mixed group of writers than it is to work alone?
I loved the story and the process. I loved working with such a talented crew that challenged me. But, that said, it was hard and I would have failed if not for Edward Cardillo. I tend to write myself into corners and blaze my way out; that wasn't workable for this project. Ed saved my bacon and made my work far more reader friendly. It's a great book and very, very unusual with the writers having to work off a single premise, but the other writers were far better at this than I was. In my defense, I am not a short-story writer ( a handful at most) and I am character heavy, so it killed me to have random characters that might do things I didn't expect! I have tons of respect and admiration for the rest who did so well. On the other hand, I am thrilled that Ed and I could collaborate (a nice word for his work to save my butt). And by far, it was harder to write with others; I don't play well in a group. I think I do better when I am sent to the corner alone so I don't bother others. :)
8. Tell us a little about Feral Hearts and what we can expect from your collaboration. What was your favorite part of working on it? Were there any major elements you really liked about it?
Going into FH, I was the weak link because I don't write short stories, don't delve into vampires, and had never collaborated. Even with that, my fellow authors are so strong that they covered my weaknesses and ran with the character I created. Designing “Jenna” -the OCD saturated nut of the bunch- was more than fun. I had a ball with her, adding little hints and secrets here and there, and giving her a life of her own. I feel like she stands as a strong character and frankly, that's all I do -develop characters and let them run amok. I like how others embraced my little monster, but that shows professionalism in their work. Again, I claim weakness, but the rest and editor Ed Cardillo are what makes FH a strong book. The voices are distinct and the action is solid. I think readers will get a favorite book out of this because of the diversity. They will at least get a shock!
9. Lycanthroship is currently in progress and utilizes some of the same authors as Feral Hearts, could you tell us a little about the premise? What makes the book unique from it’s siblings FH and Fish Tales?
It's (Lycanthroship) a looser type book...as far as the set up....I threw out a set up and said , “RUN!”. That works for me. FH was more controlled. One type isn't the better of the two...we get very different results with these and they can't be compared. I think FH with vampires, has some expected rules and twists, but with werewolves like in Lycanthroship, we get turmoil and confusions. Werewolves are just such messy beasts! What is interesting is that the authors don't replicate characters; they go in very different ways than in FH. Again, it shows that the authors are solid writers and not only think outside the box, but see no box at all! Fish Tales is a collection of frightening stories that are related ONLY by water. Lycanthroship and FH are stories set within a defined universe, a time and place in common and the characters interact.
10. As the CEO of JEA you have to make a lot of tough decisions about which authors to pick up. What are the biggest things you look for in an ideal author?
Sometimes, I can “smell” when a book is right. Sometimes, I don't know, but have a feeling. I know for a fact we have passed on several books that were fantastic and if I were to go back in time, I'd grab them. At the time, maybe a word threw me or we had something similar, or I was distracted by something else. I make mistakes. I never know how we decide something isn't right, except that we get a lot of subs and can only take a few. I have taken a few as favors, I admit that. I have taken some before because the pitch and the credentials were amazing. I'm impressed when a sub meets the exact requirements we ask for!
I took Keith Milstead as an unfinished sub, (that's unheard of) but his voice shocked me. I did ask for a few changes, but the story was rock solid. It's worth waiting for. Andy Bove was an author I asked to sub to us because his pose was virtually perfect. Sometimes I speak to an author and feel a connection and see their wit (Tabitha Baumander).
There is no ideal author. We have missed a few, but the most ideal ones I know are those with us. They are amazing. Those who want to be with us and who are....those are ideal because they believe. Mark Woods may be the most ideal. He was shy and quiet about his writing, took the swift kick in the rear I gave him, and came out selling like a monster! Anyone can say he is a great writer, but I take notice when I see that someone is and yet that person is humble. Still water runs deep...always has. I see authors boast about sales and waving hands and jumping around, and they generally don't impress me. I think the strongest writers are the ones who let their work say it all.