Title: The Last Best Thing
Author: Kate Sebeny
Release Date: 10th April 2015
BLURB supplied by the Author
“What started out 50 years ago as an annual party evolved into a yearly reunion and then a way of life. It’s sort of like a geriatric Big Chill.”
Sam and Sarah are the elderly owners of a farm in central Iowa that turns into a private retirement community when it also becomes home to a disabled friend, a destitute neighbor and her daughter, and an expatriate artist. Together, this close-knit group confronts the hardships and disappointments of age and infirmity with courage, humanity and humor.
But beneath the surface, this rustic “home away from the old folks’ home” is not everything it seems. One of its inhabitants is a killer. Another is her victim.
How far will these lifelong friends go to help each other when their way of life is threatened? Witness what loyalty and sacrifice really mean to this unlikely group of people gathered together under one roof.
ABOUT KATE SEBENY
Kate Sebeny is the author of the recently published novella The Last Best Thing. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kate earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa and her master’s at Iowa State University. Amongst other things, she’s taught undergraduate writing at two universities, and has been editor of a regional newspaper and at a national magazine. She is the recipient of several grants and awards for her writing. Kate has also renovated every place she’s lived, including the historical Madison County jailhouse in Winterset, Iowa. At work on a new novel and a short-story collection, she resides at her current rehab project on the Des Moines River, along with her three dogs and three cats.
What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?
Hello! Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to connect with readers, Sandra. I’m Kate Sebeny, the author of The Last Best Thing and a lifelong Iowan.
When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
I suppose it’s when I sold my first story. And then when I wrote my first novel (still languishing in a desk drawer; it was awful) and then when I got my master’s degree in creative writing. I didn’t consider myself an author until recently, upon publication of The Last Best Thing.
Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
Because life intervened to such a large extent, 15 years went by between my writing of The Last Best Thing and its publication. I had a lot of updating to do!
Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
I do a lot of freelance editing, specializing in copywriting for museum exhibitions.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
The Last Best Thing is about how far you would go to help a friend.
Who is your publisher? or do you self publish?
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
The length of time it takes me to write a book varies tremendously with the project and the other demands on my time. But, on average, I’d say a good year from concept to polished first draft. Then, of course, multiple revisions to beef up and solidify everything.
Which of your books were easier/harder to write than the others?
They’re all easy. They’re all hard.
What can we expect from you in the future? ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre? I’m currently at work on a novel and a collection of creative nonfiction stories.
What genre would you place your books into?
Aside from my in-progress creative nonfiction book, I generally work in the genre of mainstream literary fiction, of which The Last Best Thing is a good example.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I write the kind of books I most like to read.
Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
My favourite is always the next one.
If you had to choose to be one of your characters in your book/books which would you be? and why?
That’s a tough one. All my books contain strong female characters working together to aid one another. Any one of these capable, empathetic, smart, funny ladies would be an excellent role model for any woman, myself not least of all.
I love a book with a strong female main character! ~Jeanz
Where do you get your book plot ideas from?What/Who is your inspiration?
I get my ideas from life, my habit being to ask ‘what if?’ To me, the world of a book is very much like the actuality of life—every bit as funny—but imbued with more meaning, which is often rather lacking in real life.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I write whenever I can carve out the time and find the energy. I write when and where circumstances allow, and have several different writing sites around my house and outdoors, to take the fullest advantage of the seasons. For example, summer will find me camped out writing on the front porch, whereas I set up shop in front of the fireplace during the coldest winter months. Between times, I might write in my second-story study, the kitchen or the enclosed back porch. Every one of those locations looks onto the river, so I’m blessed with several offices that all have spectacular views.
Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them? ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
I definitely try to find readers for my in-progress work. My dear niece Anna, herself a talented writer, is a wonderful source of feedback, as are various friends who love to read. And the publisher of The Dayton Leader, a rural Iowa newspaper, kindly allows me to use the publication as a test market for the essays intended for future compilation, which appear there serially.
Do you gift books to readers to do reviews?
I do, and what a rewarding experience that is. I’ve made fast friends that way, many in the UK, where The Last Best Thing appears to be a bit popular.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Yes, avidly. Reviews are great forms of feedback.
Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
No, not at all. Readers’/reviewers’ opinions are candid and therefore sacred. In addition to mentioning a book’s good qualities, pointing out its flaws and suggesting ways to improve it is part of their job description. Constructive criticism only benefits my writing.
How do you come up with the Title and Cover Designs for your book/books?Who designed the Cover of your books?
My dear friend Robert Bodnar, a very talented designer, created the cover for The Last Best Thing, using the photograph of a lovely lady who became an instant friend. My sister, Sharon Holland, is another gifted designer who’s keen to design the cover for the nonfiction compilation book I’m working on. She’s sure to do a first-rate job.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I’ve always chosen a title either before beginning a book or during the first discovery draft, since a title evolves along with the story.
How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books? These variables also evolve for greater significance and meaning as the writing progresses. Thank goodness for modern-day computer word-processing programs, “find and replace” (or, as I refer to the operation, “search and destroy”) being invaluable for global revision.
Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
Both. While I do attempt to plot out a story, I’m very much about the first “discovery” draft. I feel it’s counterproductive to be so rigid in what I want the story to do that I ignore the happy accidents that occur in the process of writing. Writing is not a closed system. A novel is a place where magic happens, elevating the writer as well as the reader. I do have an initial idea about what the various characters are like but—once I create them—I find it’s best to follow them around to see what they become, to see what they want and do.
What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller?
To my mind, as an avid reader, what makes a book really good is excellent writing. I don’t want to discount the prime importance of a good story in a book’s success and staying power, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed books that lacked a solid story on the basis of superlative writing.
Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
For me, “writer’s block” is exactly equivalent to not having time to write, the presence of professional and/or domestic exigencies that get in my way.
What do you do to unwind and relax? Do you have a hobby?
I have several hobbies (working on my house, playing with my six pets, gardening, reading, cooking, etc.), writing being the foremost. To unwind, I get together with friends once or twice a week to do nothing more than shoot the breeze, drink beer and engage in word play.
Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
Of course. My experiences are the basis of my characters and stories, although they’re just starting points, not cut out of whole cloth by any means.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
While I’m hoping the craft of my storytelling is artfully hidden in my books, it’s my goal to make their messages readily apparent.
Is there a certain Author that influenced you in writing?
Charles Dickens in early days. John Irving, for sure, also Richard Russo and Anne Tyler. Many, many others, all wonderfully beneficial. These influential masters of the craft both inspire and daunt me. (I want to write like that vs. I’ll never be able to write like that.)
What is your favourite book and Why?
Have you read it more than once? John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany might be my favorite book. It’s got it all: quirky characters, a great theme and symbolism, high humor, superb prose, and a very rich and meaningful story.
Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favourite/worst book to movie transfer?
Books and movies are two very different things. While it’s possible for a movie to capture a book’s essence, it’s impossible in just two hours for a movie to be all a book is. Still, I think “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” did a good job, as did “Field of Dreams.” Excellent books, excellent films. Perhaps that’s why Peter Hedges (an extremely gifted Iowa author, along with W.P. Kinsella) moved into screenwriting.
I think the best book-to-movie translation was “Bridges of Madison County.” I didn’t care for the florid, sappy prose of Robert Waller (another Iowa author), but the film wasn’t half bad. As one critic correctly observed, the movie “made a cinematic silk purse out of a literary sow’s ear.”
What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it?(ebook, hardback or paperback)
I’m currently reading scientific research about the physiological, psychological and sensory characteristics of cats and dogs. This is background research for my soft-science collection of humorous pet stories. These are all hardback books, many requested through inter-library loan from universities.
Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
No way. I couldn’t read ebooks in the bathtub. And I doubt the one of my puppies who enjoys gnawing on books would find an ereader as satisfying. Dickens has a voracious literary appetite and just eats books up.
Did you have a favourite author as a child?
As a child, Robert Benchley (the father of Peter Benchley of “Jaws” fame) was my favourite author.
Is there a book you know you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just couldn't finish?
I couldn’t get through James Joyce’s Ulysses.
What do you think about book trailers?
My publisher required a book trailer and I had never heard of such a thing. But, in the course of that same day, I not only found out what a book trailer is, I also found out how to make one and did. I think it does capture the feel of my book. Please feel free to check it out yourself, via YouTube, my publisher’s website (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5OGffjbMks&feature=em-share_video_user) or my own website (www.KateSebeny.com).
What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Write! Write, write, write, write, write. Think about your writing and what you’re trying to accomplish with it. Read—A LOT. And think about what you’re reading, analyze it. Definitely get all the instruction in writing you can. Try to find a community of writers you can connect to and exchange ideas with, whether it’s locally or online.
Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
I’ve written under other last names before, previous married names. But I’m quite sure I’m going to stick with Kate Sebeny (my original and once-again legal name) from here on out, if only for continuity’s sake.
If you could invite three favourite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with? I’m assuming they can be dead? Yes, alive or dead. In that case, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Charles Darwin. I think that guest list would make for a very convivial group. Not sure what I would serve, though….
Reviewers have noted that your book The Last Best Thing is quite humorous at times while treating of very serious subject matters (assisted suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, the disappointments and debility of old age, etc.). How do you reconcile this apparent disparity? Life is sometimes deadly serious. It’s often also very funny. These qualities exist side by side.
Where can readers follow you?
Publisher’s website: www.kellanpublishing.com
My website: www.KateSebeny.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008118195401&ref=bookmarks